(Idaho Falls) Post Register
Idaho Politics Weekly last week released polling that seems completely contrary to what we thought we knew about how Idahoans feel about public lands in their state.
Perplexed by the findings — that 73 percent of Idahoans want federal public lands to be managed by the state — we called the market research firm that conducted the poll. Perhaps, we thought, the question was worded in such a way that it had been suggested that state control is better.
The market research firm contacted 604 random Idahoans and asked, “Do you believe public lands in Idaho should be controlled and managed by the state or by the federal government?”
Never miss a local story.
The question, at first glance, seems free from influence, as good poll questions should be.
But in fact, it’s a gross oversimplification. So many issues that are bundled up in land transfer are hidden by the dumb logic of this black or white question. Federal or state? Big government or small? Washington D.C. or Boise? As a Republican state, most would obviously agree that smaller government as close to home as possible is better.
What if the question were instead worded, “Do you believe public lands in Idaho should be controlled and managed by the federal government, or should they be sold or leased for profit by the state?”
It’s a far more accurate depiction of what would happen once we give Idaho the right to handle more of the land the federal government holds in trust for all citizens of the United States. After that, Idaho, the West and the United States would never be the same.
Let us fill you in on three quick reasons why transferring federal lands to the state for management would likely ruin Idaho as we know it.
1) Our state constitution (Article IX, Section 8, if you want to look it up) mandates that Idaho must “secure the maximum long term financial return” on state lands.
But of the lands granted to Idaho at statehood, 100,000 acres have been sold since 2000, and a total of 1.7 million acres have been sold over the course of the state’s history. That’s 40 percent.
Politicians who say public federal lands turned over to state control won’t be sold or blocked off to public access through exclusive leasing of some type are either ignorant or lying. The state will sell or block access in some way, shape or form. They won’t have a choice.
2) Managing land without selling, leasing or adding other premiums to access would bankrupt our state. .Because exactly how will our revenue-dependent state budget, which can’t even properly fund our public education system, manage to pay for fires raging through millions of acres — or simply pay the salaries of employees tasked with its management?
After 2015’s fire season, Idaho was hit with a $78 million tab for fires that burned on state lands. If we weren’t out of the Great Recession when we got that bill, Gov. Otter definitely wouldn’t be running laps around the state about a 7.4 percent public schools budget increase.
3) We’ll be reviled in history as the Constitutional apostates.
If we indeed find a way to transfer control, it will be because we betrayed our own Constitution and our state’s promise to “forever” recognize the United States as steward of federal lands within our state borders.
When Idaho entered the Union in 1890, we accepted 3.6 million acres, promising to manage them “in perpetuity” for the benefit of Idaho’s state programs. The rest? The United States retained them for the benefit of all its citizens.
The disclaimer reads, in part: “And the people of the state of Idaho do agree and declare that we forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof…”
Perhaps the question they should have asked is, “Do you want public lands to stay public?”