BOISE — Idaho House lawmakers by a 53-14 margin have approved a bill that sets basic parameters for how Idaho would manage any federal land it acquires in the future.
The bill, which was sent to the Senate Resources and Environment Committee March 18, would require Idaho to mange those lands for multiple uses, including logging, grazing, mining, wildlife and recreation.
The legislation creates “a very, very basic framework for how we would manage land once it’s returned to the state of Idaho,” said the bill’s author, Rep. Judy Boyle, a Republican rancher from Midvale.
Dozens of people testified during a lengthy public hearing on the legislation March 16 and support and opposition were about equal.
Boyle supports efforts to gain state control of most federal land in western states. Supporters of that proposal believe it’s possible because all states were granted equal footing with the original 13 states when admitted to the Union.
The bill says that among the rights states possess as a result of their admission to the Union is the right to “the grant of all lands held in trust by the federal government for the states once they are granted statehood.”
“Sister states to whom this guarantee has been fulfilled have control of their destiny and absolute economic freedom and have a distinct advantage over the state of Idaho,” Boyle’s bill states.
That argument was attacked by Rep. Ilana Rubel, a Democrat attorney from Boise, who pointed to a recent opinion by the Idaho Attorney General’s Office that dissents with that claim.
“This premise has no support in the law,” a March 14 opinion by Deputy Idaho Attorney General Steven Strack says about the equal footing argument.
During the public hearing, Washington County Commissioner Kirk Chandler, a rancher, disagreed with arguments by sportsmen that having Idaho take control of federal land would ruin hunting, fishing and other recreational opportunities.
“The difference between state management of lands and Forest Service management of lands is like night and day. The state land is managed much better,” he said. “The turning back of (federal) lands to the state isn’t taking away from the public. It makes it more available to the public.”
Lawmakers liked the idea of Idaho managing the lands rather than the federal government.
Rep. John Vander Woude, a Republican farmer from Nampa, used a farm analogy to counter the argument that Idaho can’t afford to manage federal lands.
If a farmer plants corn in a field but doesn’t harvest it, of course he won’t get a return from the land and that’s how the federal government is manging the land it owns in Idaho, he said.
“They are not managing it to yield or get any product off of it,” Vander Woude said. “I think this is a good bill and should move forward.”
Following public testimony, Boyle said, “You’ve heard a lot of fear and speculation and a lot of myths and that’s exactly why I brought this bill forward; so we can discuss them.”