Idahoans love their public lands. I have yet to meet anyone who isn’t upset by plans to take them from us and offer them to the highest bidder.
But who leads the charge to keep these lands of leisure and recreation?
In the past Idaho has enjoyed leadership when it came to our outdoor heritage. Whether it came from Ted Trueblood, Sen. Frank Church or Gov. Cecil Andrus, fellow Idahoans gave us representation and voice.
Who leads us now? Despite the overwhelming support for public lands, our congressmen have been disappointingly quiet on the matter. Recently Congress passed rules with explicit language to allow the sale of public lands. Idaho Republican Reps. Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson voted for it. Who are they representing? Not me.
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Labrador also brazenly introduced a bill in Congress last year to help the sale of public lands. Does he not realize how much Idahoans love their public lands? Does he not care?
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, says he supports changes in the way public lands are managed but wants to keep them in public hands. If he wants these lands to be managed by the state, is he aware that Idaho has sold more than 40 percent of the lands it has owned? Or that state lands are not managed for multiple purposes? In fact, they often have “No entry” signs on them.
Gov. Butch Otter has at least said that he no longer supports the movement because he has “seen the bill for firefighting on those lands.” That seems a rather obvious concern; have our congressmen not seen those bills? Perhaps they should.
And in the Idaho Legislature, Judy Boyle has promised to introduce numerous bills to move lands to the state. Who is she representing?
Meanwhile, Idaho’s would-be thieves are watching Utah, as troublemakers there are the leaders of this movement. In the past week, Utah, which hosts the national outdoor retailers trade show (which brings in $40 million), found out it risks losing that show if it continues to back the war on public lands. The industry accounts for 120,000 jobs in Utah’s economy — why are your representatives gambling with your livelihoods, Utah?
And Idahoans watching this should consider how important outdoor recreation is to us. It’s our third-largest industry. Utah’s got nothing on us. Our public lands are used over and over to access whitewater rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking and so much more. To snowmobile, ski, camp, hunt, go target shooting and just connect with the natural world.
Idaho’s elected officials wouldn’t do anything that could harm our farmers; why don’t they protect our third-largest industry?
Picture yourself a year from now going to a favorite spot only to find locked gates and “no trespassing” signs? That’s not our way of life. But if these lands are sold, will rich buyers from out of state let you cross their lands? Don’t bet on it.
Why are our representatives not protecting our public lands? Who speaks for us?
Ted Eisele is a former teacher and TV director. He is currently retired but writes for several fly fishing magazines.