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Idaho Landowners Couldn't Block Public Land Access Under New Legislative Proposal

Chadd Cripe/Idaho Statesman

A yet-to-be introduced proposal in the Idaho House is trying to prevent private landowners and others from blocking off access to public lands. These types of incidents have become flashpoints for backpackers, hunters and anglers.

If you’re an outdoorsy person and have been on Facebook over the past year, there’s a good chance you’ve heard Brian Brooks, the executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation.

Brooks has uploaded a couple of videos from scenic parts of Idaho that have gotten hundreds of thousands of views, including one east of Blackfoot.

“I’m on the Miner Creek road here and as you can see it is gated and it is locked,” he said in a video uploaded in August.

But it shouldn’t have been locked. Behind it was thousands of acres of state-owned public land. Brooks says the gate is now open, but there were no consequences for the person who locked it off.

So, he wants to change that – and he says so do others who get riled up about getting blocked from areas they might’ve been visiting for years.

“If you want to go hunt, you want to go fish, trap, pick morels, huckleberries, ride horses, ride your ATVs, you’re not going to be able to do any of that unless you have some access.”

Brooks is teaming up with state Rep. John Gannon (D-Boise) on a bill where law enforcement would give an initial warning to people who gate off, or otherwise restrict access to public lands. The second offense would be a $200 fine and the third a misdemeanor.

“People, especially Idahoans, who have hunted and fished and hiked for many, many years, maybe generations, are almost losing a way of life,” Gannon said.

The draft legislation would also allow a person to sue someone who’s blocked off public access in civil court if they refuse to open it up within 24 hours of being notified.

They could recoup $500 or any actual damages they’ve suffered, whichever is greater, as well as attorney’s fees.

One roadblock the effort faces is whether or not a county has been keeping track of their own roads, or if they could afford to maintain any that are found to be rightfully theirs.

Just this week, Bannock County Commissioners held a hearing after a citizens group told them that eight of the roughly 50 roads that the county website lists as public have been either blocked or had no trespassing signs posted near them, according to the Idaho State Journal.

The last time Bannock County inventoried its road system was in 1990, the paper reports.

Commissioner Ernie Moser told the crowd that it will take some time to look at these roads due to wintry conditions.

Meanwhile, Gannon hopes to get his proposal introduced as a bill in the coming weeks.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.

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