The thing about scams and the people behind them is that they are often successful. Some scams are easy to spot, such as the Nigerian cousin you didn’t know you had who is in immediate and dire need of wired cash. The best scams — the ones that fool people — are more subtle, such as reckless efforts to convince Idahoans and other Western state residents that our public lands system is broken and that we all should give up our rights by transferring shared national lands to the states.
Arguments asserting states’ rights have been made to appeal to strong federalist sensibilities in Idaho. Statements that the federal system is broken and the state can fix it sound awfully appealing. But the state land grab isn’t about states’ rights; it’s about your rights to access your public lands.
Rarely do those in the west hold up Eastern states as places we ought to mimic. Advocates of taking away public land in Idaho have declared that Western states, unlike our fortunate Eastern brethren, got a raw deal when our country was formed, because we have less private and state land within our borders. According to these advocates, New Jersey and Maryland got it right, and Idaho got it wrong. In their view, having millions of acres where we all can camp, hike, fish and hunt without having to ask a landowner for permission means Idaho got it wrong.
Let me paint a picture of what it would be like if public lands are turned over to the state. Expect that all recreation uses will be subservient to extractive uses. State of Idaho lands are not public lands and are managed for maximum economic return, by constitutional mandate. Be ready for your favorite camping spot to be closed off, and don’t be upset if your hunting spot is now posted with a “no trespassing” sign. You may even find an oil rig or mining operation behind that sign.
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Idahoans don’t travel to Maryland to go hunting, and rarely do we travel to New York to go camping. People from back East come here — and dream about the chance — to chase a wild bull elk or raft the Middle Fork of the Salmon, because we have what they don’t: access and wide-open spaces. We live in a place where money doesn’t buy your ability to hunt, fish, raft, bike, hike or ride your motorized vehicle. If you think the smoke and mirrors of state management won’t change that, think again.
The state Legislature has been “studying” the ability of the state to take public lands for the past two years. The state would have to either jack up taxes or sell public land to pay for management, because there is absolutely no way the state can afford to pay the estimated $111 to $390 million per-year cost to manage public lands. Sane minds would have thought it ended there, but recently the Idaho House of Representatives passed a compact bill (HB 265), joining other special interest lobbying groups, to spend your taxpayer dollars fighting to take your public lands. Just last week, Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch voted in favor of a budget measure that would facilitate the sale of public lands.
If this sounds crazy, it is. Yet the scam continues.
The next time your elected official tells you they support the state of Idaho taking over your public lands, tell them to keep their hands off your property. Public lands are yours and mine, and nobody has any business telling us what we can do with our land.
Brad Brooks is a longtime Idaho hunter, climber and outdoorsman. He works for The Wilderness Society in Boise.