For most Idahoans, our expansive landscapes are seen as a great heritage to be explored and cherished. These lands provide quality habitat that sustains rich fish and wildlife populations that naturally draws or creates lifelong sportsmen and women. Our Idahoan character and western culture have been shaped in part by our uninhibited exploration of wild places.
Through countless recreational opportunities Idaho sportsmen have found a deep reverence for public lands and in turn, defend their access to them fiercely — access granted to every American as a birthright. However, in recent years policy makers from western states, including Idaho, have introduced legislation aimed at transferring our shared national lands from the American people, and into control of the states. Undoubtedly these plans would diminish public access and degrade our prized sporting traditions.
Managing these 34.5 million acres of transferred lands would fall between $111 million to $390 million per-year: a financial loss to the State that could only be recouped by raising taxes or selling land. Since the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) is constitutionally obligated to seek the highest economic return for State lands, and is not required to manage lands for public use or recreation, we can easily see the preferred alternative. Goodbye open space, hello locked gates.
To illustrate my point, recently IDL unanimously voted 5-0 to auction off State “public” land near Payette and Priest Lakes. Public lakefront property is now commercial real estate because State land management gives power to five people, who face significant pressure to sell lands. Starting with 3.2 million acres of land at Statehood, Idaho now has 2.3 million and dropping. The State is not interested in public access.
Chaired by Senator Chuck Winder, the Senate Interim Committee on Public Lands studied the process of the State taking control of public lands. The diligent work of Sen. Winder and the Interim Committee is comprehensive and commendable. They found that “Idahoans do not want to lose access to public lands” even among those who support the transfer. The Committee recommended any transfer of national lands to the State only if “structured to prevent sale of those lands.” And since the State is constitutionally mandated to sell off its land for highest economic gain, we have a paradox. Furthermore, the Committee found that many doubt the IDL has “the resources, staff, or expertise associated with a takeover.”
Sportsmen who value their traditional access should oppose any attempts of a public lands transfer. What we stand to lose is access to the last remaining tracks of western lands and perhaps even worse, the very fabric of our way of life.
I urge you to write your congressmen and state your strong opposition to any transfer of public land to state control. Not only will you be safeguarding our sporting traditions, but you’ll be sending a clear message that our national public lands belong to all of us, the people, and should remain that way forever.
Brian Brooks is an Idaho hunter, angler and backpacker. He works for the Idaho Wildlife Federation in Boise.