House editorial: Simpson schools U.S. reps on public lands

At a Feb. 24 U.S. House Appropriations Committee meeting on the Forest Service Budget, there was a notable exchange about federal land ownership between Tom Tidwell, current chief of the United States Forest Service, and Congressman Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma.

Though U.S. Rep. Cole admitted his state has very little federal land, he asked, “Is there merit… of returning it one way or another – in a managed way – into private ownership?”

Tidwell replied, “I’m a strong advocate for our system of land ownership and I believe these lands should remain in public ownership… When I hear proposals for states – I’m concerned. How would you pay for the management? What would prevent you from selling it off?”

“Selling it off is exactly what I’m suggesting,” replied U.S. Rep. Cole. “I think it’s worth thinking about.”

It was when Congressman Mike Simpson spoke up in response to U.S. Rep. Cole that you could clearly see the gap between those who know public land – those who use it and build their lives around it - and those who want to raffle it off to the highest bidder.

Congressman Simpson’s response is a breath of fresh air to the western public who does understand the benefits. “Let me tell you why people live in Idaho. They live in Idaho because they love their public lands. They like access to them for recreation, for hunting, for fishing, for all the activities that they do on public lands.”

U.S. Rep. Simpson has his finger on the pulse of this state. Nikki Wallace, Congressman Simpson’s District and Communications Director said in a statement, “Over the last several years Congressman Simpson has heard from Idaho sportsmen and recreationists that they want sustained access to public lands to ensure Idahoans can continue to enjoy hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreational activities.”

The contrast between those who understand the benefits of sharing land ownership among all Americans, and those who want to “divest” federal ownership couldn’t be more stark than it is here in Idaho.

Look no further than U.S. Rep. Simpson’s counterpart, Congressman Raul Labrador, to see just how much of a rift separates those who want freedom from government overreach and those who want freedom to reap the benefits of the use of land they otherwise would never have access to.

Rep. Labrador is aggressively toeing the party line on this issue. He introduced a bill in the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands that would let an advisory committee, including representatives from industries like oil and timber, manage between 200,000 and 4 million acres of National Forest System lands. Who would have access then? Probably not hunters or anglers.

Some in the Idaho Legislature are dancing the same jig. On Wednesday, Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood introduced a bill that would let counties declare federal lands a public nuisance.

Idahoans, if you live in Idaho because you love your public lands, take note of this contrast and get in touch with your state and U.S. representation to clear up their obvious confusion over what their constituents really want. If you, indeed, live in Idaho because you love the outdoors, say something before being an Idahoan takes a backseat to being a faceless inhabitant of a one-party state dancing at the end of the GOP’s out-of-touch rhetorical strings.

(Find the video of Congressman Simpson’s testimony at and watch the exchange between Congressman Cole and Chief Tidwell at

Katie Stokes

Katie Stokes is the Commentary page editor. Email her at

Editor’s Note:

In our Feb. 26 editorial about public lands, we stated Congressman Raul Labrador’s H.R. 2316 would allow oil interests to be represented on the proposed advisory committee. No such language exists in the bill.

If passed, H.R. 2316 would form advisory committees which would include, but are not limited to, county or other local government officials, commercial timber, wood products or milling industry, federal grazing or land use permits and recreational users of the National Forest System land.

Rep. Labrador’s bill also protects public access through “valid and existing rights,” which includes “access to National Forest System land included in a community forest demonstration area for hunting, fishing and other related purposes.”

Additionally, Rep. Labrador’s press secretary Dan Popkey said we incorrectly aligned Rep. Labrador’s stance with those who wish to sell public lands.

To read H.R. 2316, click the link below:

Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act

To read Rep. Labrador’s column about H.R. 2316, published in the Post Register in June 2015, click the link below:

Guest column: Testing a hypothesis

Katie Stokes is the Commentary page editor. Email her at