In its selection process of a route for a massive power transmission line across southern Idaho, the Bureau of Land Management listed eight criteria used in the decision making process.
“Route on public land where practical” came in seventh.
The purpose of the Gateway West Transmission Project, proposed by Rocky Mountain Power and Idaho Power, is to route energy generated in Wyoming to population centers on the West Coast. Any benefits to Idaho residents are negligible. In fact, it’s not even on Idaho Power’s list of needed improvements over the next 10 years. However, it will place major constraints on some of the most productive farmland in the state where it crosses Power and Cassia counties. In those two counties, 75 percent of the route will be on private property.
On one hand, it’s astonishing that the right to own private property, one of the most basic freedoms outlined by our nation’s forefathers, slips to seventh place on a list like this. On the other hand, when analyzing the six criteria deemed more important than private property rights, it’s shocking how insignificant individual liberty has become in the view of our federal government.
There are literally hundreds of quotes made by our forefathers about private property rights and their connection to our basic freedoms. James Madison said, “Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected.” President Calvin Coolidge said, “Ultimately property rights and personal rights are the same thing.” Northern Nevada rancher, the late Wayne Hage, summed it up as well as anyone when he said, “If you don’t have the right to own and control property then you are property.”
So without further ado, here’s what it’s come down to, folks. Following are the six criteria established by the BLM as more important than your right to own property:
• Avoid BLM-identified preliminary priority sage-grouse habitat and Wyoming core habitat areas.
• Avoid designated areas such as national monuments, wilderness study areas, national landscape conservation system areas and state and local parks.
• Avoid visual resource management Class II areas.
• Follow existing corridors or linear structures.
• Avoid sensitive species habitat, including bald eagle nests and big game winter range.
• Avoid cultural and natural resource areas.
Sage grouse habitat is more important than private property. We heard a rumor several years ago that by the time all was said and done, sage grouse would make the spotted owl controversy seem small in the realm of economic devastation. This could be a preliminary indication of that prediction coming true. While no one can see into the future, it certainly makes you wonder if the farmers and ranchers who settled southern Idaho by developing the water and hacking a living out of the sage brush would have done so knowing that one day the presence of bird habitat would become more important than farms and ranches.
Wilderness study areas are more important than private property. This is possibly the biggest kick in the guts on the list. It takes an act of Congress to establish a wilderness area, and judging by recent memory, we all know Congress doesn’t act on much of anything. In light of that fact, our federal land management agencies have the power to establish a wilderness study area — a de facto wilderness area — on their own. We would be surprised if the BLM could find one acre south of the Snake River in Idaho that meets the true definition of a wilderness area — “untrammeled by man.” Yet, here we have another instance of federal agencies running our state.
Follow existing corridors or linear structures. Isn’t Interstate 86 an existing corridor for infrastructure?
Big game winter range and bald eagle nests are more important than private property. One of the true benefits of living in Idaho is an abundance of wildlife. Many farms and ranches support wildlife during different times of the year and some incur significant damage. But we don’t understand how the presence of wild animals is more important than the presence of Idaho’s hardworking farm and ranch families. In addition, we believe those hardworking families have established a firm record of living harmoniously with our abundant wildlife. How a federal agency establishes this as criteria to justify the taking of private land is astonishing.
Private property is an integral part of the engine that powers Idaho’s economy. Private property helps pay a lot of mortgages in this state — sage grouse don’t. The biggest threat to sage grouse is fire. This tells us that BLM needs to do a better job of managing public land and never be allowed to dictate how and where the rights of private property owners will be violated.
Frank Priestley is president of the Idaho Farm Bureau.