Western States' Public Lands Fight Comes To Idaho

Jan 23, 2013

A fight between western states and the federal government over control of public lands has surfaced in the Northwest. Last year Utah and Arizona lawmakers passed bills requiring the feds to sign public land over to them. Now Idaho lawmakers are discussing whether a similar bill is right for their state. 

A growing frustration over how the federal government manages public lands was at the core of Utah Representative Ken Ivory presentation to Idaho lawmakers. Utah passed a bill last year ordering the federal government to relinquish about 30 million acres of federal land to the state. The feds would retain national parks, monuments, and wilderness.

“Well, in Utah the approach that we’ve took is that federal public lands become state public lands to be managed to multiple use and sustained yield with local planning," explains Ivory. "So those public uses, we preserve that because that's who we are.”

Ivory says the federal government hasn’t done a good job in managing millions of acres of federal public land. He says Western states do a better job of reducing the risk of wildfires by allowing more logging and grazing.

If states take over these public lands, it would be them -- not federal agencies -- that charge ranchers for grazing rights and companies that want to cut down trees. The money raised could then be used for things like education. 

Ken Ivory addresses Idaho lawmakers on January 21, 2013.
Credit Aaron Kunz / EarthFix

But not everyone agrees with Utah Representative Ivory. Jonathan Oppenheimer with the Idaho Conservation League says he worries that environmental protections and recreation would be sacrificed if states take over federally managed public lands. 

“If these lands were turned over, that, we would see these lands sold to the highest bidder and we would see access restricted and we would see the impacts of that with reduced environmental quality," Oppenheimer says. "And those are things we have concerns over and certainly want to see Idaho’s public lands remain in public hands.”

Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke says the idea has been well received by his colleagues. He is interested in hearing more. But Bedke stopped short of saying if he would support the bill.

Ivory, the Utah lawmaker behind the push for state control of public lands, says he’s reached out to lawmakers in Oregon and Washington. But he has not been invited to present his ideas in those states.