BOISE — Idaho’s proposal to seize millions of acres of public lands received a mixed public response Wednesday at the legislative Federal Lands Interim Committee’s first public hearing on the issue.
“As long as we have public lands, somebody will want to sell them,” said Derek Farr, a member of Stop the Swap. “Public lands define us. ... At least we know under (federal) management, the land is ours.“
The bipartisan committee was formed after lawmakers signed off on legislation demanding that the federal government “imminently transfer title” to more than 34 million acres of Idaho’s public lands.
Members of Idaho’s tea party support the proposal. They argued that federal mismanagement has resulted in a crumbling timber industry and costly wildfire management.
“We have to manage our forests,” said Louis Werk. “The timber industry is gone. Federal land is not being managed.“
A federal lands transfer is “clearly” a viable option, said Jeff Wright, of Boise County.
Nearly 90 percent of Boise County is federal land, Wright said. This means most of county has been unused or gone mismanaged for years.
“Law be damned,” he said. “Politics, not law, will decide this issue.”
Native American tribes repeatedly have opposed the federal lands transfer in Idaho. Instead, they have asked the federal government to give back the lands that originally belonged to them.
“Tribes have rights to these lands,” said Buster Gibson, a member of the Shoshone Nation. “We do not want the state of Idaho to manage it for us.”
Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen said he opposes the swap. However, all stakeholders need to work better together with federal lands agencies, adding that face to face meetings should be used.
“Idaho without its public lands is like New York without the Statue of Liberty,” he said.
The state is tasked with seeking revenue for its land use, he said.
When the U.S. Forest Service asked to lease land from the Idaho Department of Lands for a base during last summer’s Beaver Creek fire, the state asked price that had to be negotiated with the Forest Service, Schoen said.
“I was placed in the difficult position to help negotiate a fair price for a lease,” he said.
The legislative committee is to submit a recommendation on the issue during the 2015 session.