In Hailey on Friday, Oct. 10, 18 people spoke to a legislative committee taking testimony on a proposed state takeover of federal land. All opposed the idea.
About 60 people attended the event, held at the Wood River High School Performing Arts Theater before five of the 10 members on the Legislature’s Federal Lands Interim Committee.
The committee was formed by a resolution passed during the Legislature’s 2013 session. A companion resolution demanded that the federal government transfer most of its land in Idaho to state ownership. National park land, national monuments, wilderness areas and Defense and Energy department land would be excluded. The result would be a transfer of 28 million acres, 83 percent of all the federal land in the state.
The meeting was the seventh and last in a series that have been held throughout the state since Sept. 11. Committee Co-Chair Sen. Chuck Winder, who represents Boise, told the audience Friday that the results of all the meetings will be included in a report presented by the committee to the Legislature in January.
According to minutes of the meetings compiled by the committee, the proposal was overwhelmingly supported by people in northern Idaho. Of the 86 people who stated a clear opinion during meetings in Sandpoint, Kamiah and St. Maries, 62 expressed support.
The Twin Falls Times-News reported Monday that most people who testified during a meeting held there on Friday, before the meeting in Hailey, expressed opposition.
Though strong words were sometimes used to state opinions during the meeting in Hailey, the tone remained civil, with both the public and committee expressing appreciation to the other for attending.
Objections to the idea focused on potential restrictions to public access, the financial inability of the state to properly manage the lands and the legal and political obstacles to success of the effort.
“Even if the majority of us Idahoans are not wealthy, we enjoy a superior lifestyle because we are rich in federal public lands on which we can camp, hunt, recreate and use for livestock, etc.,” Sue Hansen said. “This land does not belong just to Idaho but to all citizens of the United States. State legislators should stop wasting time and our hard-earned money trying to figure out how to steal our land.”
Brent Hansen related an anecdote of a hiking trip in Austria, when he climbed to the top of a ridge and was told by a man emerging from the forest that he would have to leave—he was on a private hunting reserve.
“I realized then that Idaho is so unbelievable,” he said. “That just burned into my brain how important public land is.”
Katherine Noble, a farmer and landscape architect, emphasized the importance of federal lands to the Wood River Valley’s economy.
“Every single one of us is dependent on tourism,” she said. “Even farmers and ranchers are affected by having a good, high-quality market to sell their products to. I would suggest that you find more creative ways to reinvigorate the economies of these communities [in rural areas] that need help rather than trying to rape and pillage our public lands.”
Ketchum City Councilman Michael David read a letter from the city’s mayor, Nina Jonas, opposing the transfer. Jonas stated that the city recently enacted a new comprehensive plan that places great value on the surrounding environment.
Dani Mazzotta, central Idaho representative for the Idaho Conservation League, said the effort to obtain state ownership of federal lands is obstructing efforts such as the “collaboratives” that ICL has established in rural communities to create jobs while protecting natural resources.
“Rather than spending taxpayer’s money, I would encourage you to come together with our federal partners to find ways to produce real results on the ground,” she said.
Committee staffer Mike Nugent told the audience that the committee is set to dissolve on Nov. 30 with the end of the current two-year session of the Legislature, and another piece of legislation will have to be adopted for the effort to continue.
Hailey resident Chris Harding told the committee that “when I first heard of this, I thought it was a colossal joke. Let it die out—it’s a fool’s errand.”
It appears that approval of Congress would be required to meet the Legislature’s demand. Article 4, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution grants to Congress the power “to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States. …”
A report to Congress prepared in 2007 by the Congressional Research Service states that
“[t]his provision provides broad authority for Congress to govern the lands acquired by the federal government as it sees fit, and to exercise exclusive authority to decide on whether or not to dispose of those lands. The U.S. Supreme Court has described this power as “without limitation. …”