Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Defend federal land ownership at Friday hearing


It’s ironic that on the same night that a festival kicks off to celebrate the state’s sheep ranching history—a story of herds grazed on mountain pastures owned by the federal government—that state lawmakers will hold a hearing in Hailey on a state takeover of federal lands.
    The hearing will be held Friday at 6:30 p.m. at the Wood River High School Performing Arts Theater in Hailey. No one who understands how the character of the West is inextricably part of a rich legacy of federal lands should miss it.
    The state takeover is popular with state lawmakers and has persisted since the days of the Sagebrush Rebellion in the 1980s when Westerners with permits to operate on federal lands expressed displeasure with overall land management in the West. The displeasure they expressed was largely that they couldn’t do as they pleased on land they did not own and that they should be afforded rights greater than those of the landlord—the American public that owns the land.
    Idaho counties piled on, blaming federal ownership instead of unwise state tax policies that refuse communities local control of taxation for the cost of services to visitors on public lands. They also perversely blamed laws like the Endangered Species Act, which tries to protect the nation’s vanishing wildlife, for damaging the economies of communities located near public lands.
    Receptive state governors have had states’ attorneys scurrying for decades in a search for an elusive legal truncheon to force the federal government to cede its lands to the states. Idaho has invested an inordinate amount of time and political rhetoric to pursuing this—time and energy that could have been better spent figuring out how to improve our schools and highways, things the Idaho Legislature actually controls.
    Western legislatures have commissioned one flawed study after another in a quest to argue that states could care for vast federal tracts without bankrupting themselves and without selling public lands into private ownership.
    It’s highly unusual for a legislative subcommittee on any issue to hold a public hearing in Blaine County. Our county is generally viewed by a lot of the rest of the state as a spoiled and careless outlier divorced from the experience of so-called “real” Idahoans.
    Yet, Blaine County people have a more intimate experience with federal lands and the way they’re managed than anyone who spends most of their time in our capital city’s asphalt acres. We live on the edge of the largest wilderness in the lower 48 states and at the base of a world-famous ski mountain that’s on federal land. The state is right to want to hear from the people of Blaine. Now, it should listen.




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