Guest Opinions

Public lands: It would be wrong, risky to ignore Idaho Admissions Bill

As a fifth-generation Idahoan, I am concerned about the issue of federal land ownership in the state of Idaho. On Feb. 29, the Senate Resources & Environment Committee jointly with the House Resources & Conservation Committee held an informational meeting without public comments that presented only one argument with little regard to the history of Idaho’s journey to statehood.

The U.S. government became the sovereign over the Oregon Territory through a treaty with Great Britain in 1846. The Idaho Territory was established in 1863. We held a Constitutional Convention on July 4, 1889, which was ratified in November of 1889. President Benjamin Harrison signed this bill into law on July 3, 1890, granting Idaho statehood.

The Idaho Admissions Bill is written in plain language and I encourage you to read it for yourself. We wanted statehood, and through the passage of the Idaho Admissions Bill we were granted equal footing with the 13 original colonies and the 29 states that came before us. It lays out the boundaries of Idaho, our representation in Congress and granted lands to the state.

The lands granted to the state of Idaho included: school endowments, public buildings, university land grant, the existing penitentiary in Boise, lands for an agricultural college, and specific land grants of an additional 500,000 acres.

After making these grants to the state of Idaho there were limits on future land grants or claims in the following quote: “The state of Idaho shall not be entitled to any further or other grants of land for any purpose than as expressly provided in this act.”

The act also appropriated $28,000 to pay for the expenses of the Constitutional Convention.

We wanted to become a state with equal standing, and we accepted the federal lands and appropriations subject to the terms established. The U.S. government in turn accepted the terms laid out in our state constitution which, among other things, stipulated that the waters of the state of Idaho would belong to the state of Idaho.

We, the great state of Idaho, continue to accept the generosity of the federal government. For the coming year the state is projected to receive about $2.6 billion from the federal government, which is approximately one-third of our $7.6 billion budget.

It is a dangerous game to attempt to renegotiate the deal we received with statehood. In pursuing federal lands the ownership of Idaho’s water, existing endowment lands and the significant federal funding is put at risk. If we appeal to the federal government to reconsider the 126-year-old deal, the federal government may decide to reconsider all of the conditions of statehood.

I appeal to the Western sensibilities of all Idahoans. A deal is a deal, and our word is our bond. We agreed to the conditions of statehood in 1889 that granted the state significant land holdings with no further claims or land grants. The facts are against the state requesting the grant of the remaining federal lands.

Scott Calhoun grew up in Orofino and now lives in Boise. He works across the state as a real estate appraiser and values access to public land.