Idaho Bill Greased the Skids for Public Land Transfer, Hits Dirt Instead

Idaho Bill Greased the Skids for Public Land Transfer, Hits Dirt Instead
Idaho Bill Greased the Skids for Public Land Transfer, Hits Dirt Instead

On it’s surface, HB 608 appeared to be a bill that would retain multiple-use for any state lands acquired by a federal land takeover. It also states that newly acquired lands would not necessarily be used to maximize profits. That seems palatable.

Only, the bill would violate Idaho’s Constitutional mandate to manage endowment lands to maximize profit. The constitution trumps legislation, so the bill is meaningless if public lands went into the state endowment lands system, which is still the most popular idea since that means big bucks and no public input for the state.

The bill is a veiled attempt to make the public land takeover more agreeable to Idahoans and is straight from the archives of public land transfer advocates. We saw a similar bill pop up in 2016 making the same promises for multiple use and land retention. Each of these bills made identical grand promises.

But, far more important than what a bill says, is what it does not say. Notice that in neither of these bills is there specific language of how these promises of multiple-use would be upheld. There is no mention of sportsman access, wildlife habitat standards, population thresholds, watershed health, temporary elk calving protections, etc. These bills are a reaction to our concerns with the public lands transfer- a way for transfer advocates to say, “Look, I want what you want!” But if we look closely, we see these bills have no practical plan or application.

The bill was heard in committee and ultimately killed, not for the reasons above, but because committee members didn’t want to have their “hands tied” by making promises of keeping lands public. To be fair, their honesty is appreciated.

Rep. Christy Zito (R-Hammett) said that the state should sell lands, that retaining Idaho’s public lands would “tie up” their economic benefit.  Someone needs to let Rep. Zito know public lands in Idaho generate 78,000 jobs, and $2.3 billion in wages and salaries annually from recreation alone, not including timber, mining, grazing, or other industries. Also mention that public lands and the experiences they provide go far beyond dollars.

Rep. Steven Harris (R-Meridian) said Idaho shouldn’t have to make promises it wont sell off land because there is little evidence it will in the future. We’ll let the Representative know that the state has sold off 41% of its lands so far, and some of that unconstitutionally.

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