Letters from the West

State analysis says Idaho has sold 33% of its land since statehood

Forest land managed for timber harvest makes up most of the endowment land managed by the Idaho Department of Lands like this area in the Hunt Creek Drainage on the Priest Lake State Forest.
Forest land managed for timber harvest makes up most of the endowment land managed by the Idaho Department of Lands like this area in the Hunt Creek Drainage on the Priest Lake State Forest.

Idaho has sold only a third of its state endowment lands since statehood, not 41 percent, the Idaho Department of Lands reported in an analysis done after a Wilderness Society report.

The Wilderness Society, using a database provided by the Department of Lands, reported the state of Idaho sold 1,760,783 acres to private interests of 4,254,448 acres it got at statehood.

The Department of Lands did a deeper analysis of the database it provided under the Public Records Act. Its staff say of an original 3,650,763 acres granted at statehood, 1,208,973 acres were sold over time.

The Wilderness Society advocates keeping national forests and public lands under federal control. It produced its analysis amid the political debate over whether to let states manage more federal land, or give more land to the states to own outright.

The discrepancies in the numbers came because some of the land was sold, then returned to the state in default several times, said Idaho Department of Lands spokeswoman Sharla Arledge. Land sales by other state agencies, including the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, also were included in the database even though they are handled separately by those agencies.

“We had to look at the deeds and follow the trail back,” Arledge said.

It took the agency three weeks to develop its analysis that also showed it had not sold 100,000 acres of state endowment land since 2000, as the Wilderness Society reported.

“The conclusion of our report is still valid, and the public needs to understand that giving public lands to the states will result in lost access and privatization of lands people hunt, fish, bike and hike on,” said Brad Brooks, The Wilderness Society’s deputy regional director based in Boise.

In the past 15 years approximately 1,200 acres of endowment land were sold, 1,200 acres of endowment land were purchased, and 43,000 acres were exchanged for 25,000 of equal value, Arledge said.

The majority of lands sold were disposed of between 1900 and 1940, with more than 12 percent of the total acres granted sold between 1911 and 1920 alone.

The Land Board sold agricultural farmland between 1940 and 1960, to private citizens and the Land Board held up to 40-year mortgages. Some of the mortgage holders defaulted and those same lands were resold, sometimes two and three times. Some people refinanced with the state several times as well. All of those numbers were counted each time in the raw data sent to the Wilderness Society, Arledge said, affecting the grand total and also making it appear more sales had happened in recent years.

“Many mortgage notes were fully paid in the early 2000s and that was when the deed was recorded in our Lands records,” Arledge wrote in an email. “So while the land was sold with people paying mortgages between 1940 and 1960, the time of deed being issued also appeared as land in the early 2000s in the raw data.”

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker

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