Senate Bill 1338, brought to us by Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll R-Cottonwood, purports to allow counties to declare Federal land a “Catastrophic Public Nuisance.” The proposed legislation which then claims to allow a county or its sheriff to take steps to abate the nuisance. Presumably this means the county can order trees be logged, roads be constructed, or prescriptive fires be lit on Federal land.
In actuality this bill (which has passed in the Senate) is yet another piece of ALEC-backed legislation wealthy land grabbers are parading around the West in the hopes of one day gaining control of your and my favorite places to hunt and fish. This bill is bad for Idaho and it is bad for those who love to recreate on public lands.
Years ago I served as Deputy Attorney General for the Idaho Department of Lands and the Land Board. In that capacity I would regularly review proposed legislation and provide legal opinions on its constitutionality. I have little doubt that Lawrence Wasden has provided a legal analysis to Nuxoll telling her that Senate Bill 1338 is unconstitutional on many levels. Nuxoll and the rest of the senators on the Resource and Environment Committee swore an oath to uphold the state and federal constitutions.
What this bill actually does is sets the stage for a sheriff to go monkey around on federal lands cutting trees, building roads, and lighting fires that could ultimately land that sheriff or other county officer in Federal prison making license plates with the Bundy clan. It also sets counties up to pay the federal government a landslide of attorney’s fees and potentially treble damages. I don’t know about you but I think I know a few schools who could make better use of that money.
Could more trees be cut on Federal land? Sure. Could the Federal government do a better job managing its land? Of course. Senate Bill 1338 is simply the wrong way to go about achieving those goals. I would urge Idaho’s Legislature to get involved with collaborative forest management groups like the Clearwater Basin Collaborative, work with Idaho’s congressional delegation, and ask for increased funding of the U.S. Forest Service. Let’s make Idaho a positive example to the rest of the country and not the laughing stock.
Kahle Becker is a private attorney, an avid hunter, and fisherman in Boise