Letters from the West

Utah lawmakers face hostile crowd on land transfer

National forest land in Idaho. Utah lawmakers say they can make a case the federal government must dispose its public lands and the states should get it. Critics say its a long shot and not a good idea.
National forest land in Idaho. Utah lawmakers say they can make a case the federal government must dispose its public lands and the states should get it. Critics say its a long shot and not a good idea. rbarker@idahostatesman.com

Two Utah lawmakers and their attorney made the argument before a joint Idaho Legislative panel Monday that they could win a case forcing the federal government to dispose of public lands in western states so the states could take control of them.

But the auditorium in the Idaho Capitol was filled to an overflow crowd of hunters, anglers, conservationists and others opposed to the idea of transferring the public lands from federal management. Utah Republicans, Sen. David Hinkins,of Orangeville, and Rep. Kevin Stratton, of Orem said their plan for transfer of public lands to the state would not involve eventual selling of the land.

Instead they said the state would manage the lands better, an issue the crowd challenged until gaveled down by House Resources and Conservation Committee Chairman Dell Raybould of Rexburg.

Their attorney George Wentz, who now lives in Sandpoint said the case rests on the the principle of “equal sovereignty.” In short since the public lands were not disposed in the western states where like Idaho they make up 61 percent of the state, those states don’t have the same rights as eastern, southern and Midwest states.

Idaho has been debating the issue for nearly five years and has rejected joining Utah in legal action the Utah team said could cost up to $14 million. Raybould said Monday there are no plans to reconsider the issue again this year.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker

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