U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho said getting Congress to approve transferring federal lands to western states would be difficult but not out of the question.
"Allowing states to manage federal lands would be more likely to get a positive hearing in Congress," he said.
The Idaho Senate will decide this week whether to approve a resolution demanding that the federal government transfer all of its land to the state. The bill, based on a law approved by Utah, is based on a legal argument that the federal government promised to sell its lands and give the states 5 percent of the proceeds.
Idaho's Republican delegation expressed support for states' rights but not specifically for the politically unpopular idea of transferring federal land.
"I share the Legislature's concern with the overbearing federal land management policies," said U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador. "They have seen the things that I have seen regarding forest health - that state forests are managed better, are healthier, and create more economic growth and recreational opportunities than federally managed forests."
House Speaker Scott Bedke said the issue would be resolved in court, not Congress. He argued on the floor last week that the state has a 120-year track record of efficient management.
"Say we took the proceeds from those lands and dedicated them to higher education, what would that look like? What if we took the proceeds from the next 500,000 acres and dedicated them to roads. What if we put more into public schools?" Bedke said. "That's the vision I'd like you to start thinking about."
The Idaho House approved the resolution 55-13. The measure stipulates that after the state gained title, it would transfer back to the federal government national parks, monuments, wilderness areas, Indian reservations, and Department of Defense and Department of Energy lands.
U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Interior Department and the U.S. Forest Service, said he, too, is frustrated with management and litigation on federal lands, and has "worked to address it in each of the two Interior funding bills that I have put forward."
Sen. Jim Risch, who spent 22 years in the Idaho Legislature, said he "steadfastly opposes" weighing in on the issue before the Legislature.
Labrador reintroduced this month his Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act, first proposed in 2012, to set up national forest trusts that would be managed by states, with proceeds going to rural counties. Gov. Butch Otter supports a similar proposal and pushed it recently to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and in testimony to a House committee.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney expressed support for the plan.
None of the land trust proposals involve transfer of federal lands to the states, a move that polls show a strong majority of Idaho Republicans oppose.
"It's frustrating that the federal government controls such a large portion of our state," Labrador said.
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