© 2024 Boise State Public Radio
NPR in Idaho
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Idaho legislature proposes bill to safeguard farmland from development

Standing in a crowd of chickens, a lone boy in a blue shirt and a cap holds one posing. In the background is a red tractor, in the foreground is the blurry tail of a chicken exiting it's green coop.
Gustavo Sagrero
Boise State Public Radio
Heston McIntyre, one of Loren's grandchildren, is helping release the chickens from their overnight coop.

A new bill aims to protect Idaho farmland from development.

“We hear over and over, ‘Please do something to protect agriculture land and preserve it in production,'" said bill sponsor Rep. Kevin Andrus (R-Lava Hot Springs) in a House Local Government committee hearing Wednesday.

According to the latest agricultural census, Idaho lost nearly 150,000 acres of farmland between 2017 and 2022.

House Bill 608 would require all Idaho counties to create ordinances establishing “agricultural protection areas” by Jan. 2025. They would also need to set up a special oversight commission.

Owners of at least five acres of farm and forest land that's been in production for three consecutive years could apply with the county to protect their land from development for 20 years. They would still maintain the development rights in the long-term.

Farm industry groups shared their support for the bill, which was crafted by the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.

Braden Jensen, the director of governmental affairs for the Farm Bureau, said it had struggled for several years to come up a legislative solution to the problem of farmland loss that also protects private property rights. He said this proposal would help counties proactively plan to keep agricultural land in production.

A key feature of the bill is that land placed in agricultural protection areas would be exempt from eminent domain. Seth Griggs, the executive director of the Idaho Association of Counties, said counties are concerned about how that could affect urbanizing areas.

"We're just asking for a simple tool that would enable us, in those narrow circumstances, when there's a need to expand a highway from a two-lane highway, like many of these rural highways are, to a four-lane highway, or four lanes with a center turn lane," he said, "that we have flexibility to be able to do so, using the tools that that we have been given as counties and as highway districts."

The association wants an exception for allowing for eminent domain to expand existing right-of-ways. The House committee voted to send the bill to the floor.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on X @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2024 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

You make stories like this possible.

The biggest portion of Boise State Public Radio's funding comes from readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

Your donation today helps make our local reporting free for our entire community.