Tea party groups support transfer of federal land to Idaho

A legislative committee heard testimony on whether Idaho should take control of 32 million acres.

rbarker@idahostatesman.comDecember 5, 2013 

The transfer of federal land to Idaho is “clearly” legal and would allow rural Idaho to prosper as urban Idaho has, said Jeff Wright, a systems engineer from Lowman.

Some of that federal land could be sold to improve Idaho’s rural economy, he said. Two-thirds of the river benches along the South Fork of the Payette River from Garden Valley to Grandjean are in federal ownership and undeveloped, he said. The number of homes could easily be doubled, he said

But talk of the state taking over federal lands is a “false hope,” said Boise attorney Forrest Goodrum.

“People should not be encouraged to think there is a way to get a big bonanza for the state of Idaho,” he said.

Wright and Goodrum were among those who testified Wednesday before the Idaho Legislature’s Interim Committee on Public Land, created by the 2013 Legislature to study possible state ownership or management of federal lands in Idaho. The Legislature also approved a resolution demanding that the federal government cede most of the land it oversees to the state.

Wright was joined by a host of speakers for tea party groups in support of transferring the federal land.

“I think the state of Idaho could manage the land better,” said Warren Grover, director of the Treasure Valley Chapter of the patriot group Act for America.

County officials and other speakers focused on their belief that federal lands are poorly managed, causing bigger fires, insect outbreaks and poverty in Idaho’s rural communities.

The committee will not issue a report to the Idaho Legislature until 2015 and is planning to hold more meetings next year.

Jack Trueblood repeated a warning against state and private takeover of federal lands that his father, legendary outdoorsman Ted Trueblood, wrote in Field and Stream in 1980: The state can’t afford to manage the lands because it takes federal subsidies to cover the costs of grazing, logging and recreation and habitat management.

“Someone back East is paying their taxes so we can manage the public lands in Idaho,” Trueblood said.

‘ZONE OF AGREEMENT’

One of the reasons for legislative interest in federal lands is the lack of timber that would help sustain rural communities.

But a report released by private and industry foresters and environmentalists showed that 130 million board feet of timber has been sold from federal forests in recent years, or is in the final planning stages, thanks in part to nine forest collaborative groups working in Idaho.

The report, compiled by the Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership, said projects that fall within a “zone of agreement” can be completed with little opposition. But the report urged the federal government put up more funds and approve projects more quickly, so logging and other fire-prevention steps can get done faster.

Will Whelan of the Nature Conservancy said the partnership doesn’t want to see collaboratives presented as an alternative to transferring federal lands to the state, or to establishing forest trusts to manage federal forests.

“We’re not trying to set these collaboratives up as a shield,” Whelan said.

Rick Tholen of the American Society of Foresters said collaborative groups like the Payette Forest Coalition are having success that the Forest Service can build on.

“These collaborative groups are advocates for action,” he said.

In addition to logging, tens of thousands of acres of forest-restoration projects have made forests more resilient and better able to thrive increasingly large fires.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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