Federal lands make up 63 percent of the land mass within the state. The lands are administered mainly through the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
The Idaho Republican Party is preparing to vote on a series of resolutions that, if adopted, call for the more than 60 percent of land within the state that is currently under control of the federal government to be relinquished from that federal control. What remains unclear is if the party will push for those lands to be placed under the control of the state government or under the control of local counties.
“When we first began discussing this, our initial thought was that federal land should be placed under control of the state government,” said Barry Peterson, chairman of the Idaho Republican Party. “But as it was discussed, the idea emerged that these lands might be better managed under local county governments, rather than having state government officials in Boise making all the decisions. The resolutions that we’ll vote on represent a broad range of thought on this matter, but one thing we are consistent with is that we believe the current federal lands should remain public lands, but should no longer be under federal control.”
The state Republican Party will be meeting this weekend in McCall. Delegates to the meeting will vote on five resolutions regarding Idaho taking over land that is currently under federal control. The ideas under consideration by the state party follow two bills passed by the Legislature this year, one which called for a study to be conducted on the issue, the other calling for the state of Idaho to issue a “demand of title” to the federal government.
The resolutions are also said to be patterned after policies that Utah and other states have adopted over the years, and that have been advocated by the nonprofit American Lands Council (ALC), a Utah-based organization.
Speaking last January in a Boise appearance before the Idaho House and Senate Resources and Conservation Committees, Ken Ivory, president of the ALC, noted to the legislators that “we’re not talking about blazing a new legal trail. We’re looking at what has already been done by Illinois, by Florida, by Louisiana and Missouri. Our federal government is an absentee, centralized landlord that is broke. Idaho can do better.”
IdahoReporter.com spoke to several delegates who will be voting on the resolutions at this weekend’s meeting. Opinions from those delegates ranged from relative ambivalence to complete support for the resolutions.
“This is not the kind of issue that gets me up and going in the morning,” said delegate Jim Blake of Kootenai County. “Right now we need the Republican Party to be organizing an economic defense of our country and addressing out of control government spending, the dangerous national debt and so forth. I’m not particularly concerned about who controls our national parks right now.”
However Jim Chmelik, a delegate from Idaho County, sees it differently. “This is the economic issue of our time here in Idaho,” he said. “Our state is a natural resource state, but with federal control of our land we can’t access those resources. For years Idaho has tried to construct an economy by marketing our outdoor recreation but that hasn’t worked. We absolutely need to take control of our own land and use our resources for the betterment of our citizens.”
Jace Prow, a delegate from Elmore County, told IdahoReporter.com that “I generally support this idea. Whether the state government or county governments take over, I don’t know. But I generally like the idea of taking our land away from the control of the federal government.”
Yet the distinction between state and county control matters to Chad Inman, a delegate from Ada County. “If the plan is for the state government to manage these lands, then I’m very hesitant on this,” Inman told IdahoReporter.com. Inman cites what he believes are problems with the Idaho Department of Lands, the state agency that is supposed to manage the original endowment land that was granted by the federal government at the time of Idaho’s founding, noting the department’s recent propensity for buying private sector, for-profit businesses that compete against privately owned businesses.
“The executive level leadership in our state government is corrupt right now … If that department was going to be taking over what is now currently federal land, I couldn’t support that. However, if we’re planning to place federal land under the control of counties, then I’d want to take a serious look at that idea,” said Inman.
The Republican Party’s weekend meeting begins Friday, and concludes Saturday evening. The two lands-related legislative items passed in both the House and Senate in April of this year, with all Democrats in the Legislature voting against them.
by Mitch Coffman