Recent news releases by the Wilderness Society and the Idaho Conservation League allege a shocking, centurylong pattern of unconstitutional Idaho land deals involving our state school endowment lands. These revelations hint at what the powerful can do when nobody is looking. We need an immediate and thorough investigation of these deals by the attorney general.
In1890, when Idaho became the 43rd state, Congress granted it millions of acres to support its fledgling schools. To protect against insider deals and other abuses, Idaho’s Constitution incorporated strict limits on how much endowment land individuals or companies could buy from the state.
It is now alleged that through the years, those provisions of Idaho’s Constitution have been violated hundreds of times by our public officials.
The Wilderness Society and Idaho Conservation League have combed through a century of data on state land sales. They reported finding over 300 transactions that appear to violate the constitutional limits put in place to protect our school endowment lands from abuses. Some of Idaho’s most powerful companies are reported to have benefited from these unconstitutional transactions.
But this news leaves many questions unanswered. How and why did these alleged violations of the state constitution occur? And, more importantly, What happens now? Will Attorney General Wasden investigate? Will he sue to get the endowment lands returned to the state? How will this get made right?
But most important, considering the specter of wrongdoing these allegations have raised, should state officials be put in charge of additional public land? Real-time politics raise the threat that this story might continue to play out.
Some politicians and special interests in Washington, D.C., Utah and even in Idaho are trying to grab our federal lands: national forests and other public lands that are a defining part of Idaho’s outdoor heritage. It’s easy to complain about Washington, and this faction makes a disingenuous argument which appeals to Western distrust of distant institutions. They contend that state ownership would be better than anything the feds provide. Well, I don’t agree and I can cite you many reasons why.
But rather than engaging in debates about “transferring” federal public lands, let’s put our energy into finding workable, real world solutions to manage these lands to provide the best results for all of us, our children and grandchildren.
If we do it together, federal ownership can work. Many of the hard-working people at federal agencies actually make good neighbors. On-the-ground managers live in our communities, and more often than not, they’re willing to roll up their sleeves to work cooperatively through problems. Already, pilot programs here in Idaho have shown good results.
Congressman Mike Simpson recently commented on the likely result of transferring federal lands to the states. He said, “When the state can’t afford it, then they’ll start selling some of it off, and guess what they’ll sell? They’ll sell the most beautiful areas to some billionaire in Texas, who then won’t let you cross those lands now so you won’t be able to get to your fishing hole.”
I like to fish on federal public land. That’s why I live here. How about you?
Forrest Goodrum is director of Ada County Fish & Game League Inc. in Boise.