Printed on: January 22, 2013

This land is our land

By Melissa Davlin
Twin Falls Times-News

BOISE -- If most of the other states in the union can manage their lands, why can't Idaho?

That was the message of Utah Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, to Idaho House and Senate resource committees Monday afternoon. Ivory spoke of Utah's effort to reclaim federally owned lands for the state and gave arguments for why Idaho should consider doing the same.

During his presentation, Ivory pointed out that in the past, the federal government has turned over lands to the state, mostly in the eastern half of the country. But once you head west, the states have much higher percentages of lands owned and controlled by the federal government.

Ivory said that under federal control, the government is "loving the forests to death" with conservation policies that don't work. Those policies don't allow for fire-smart management practices, he said.

In the presentation, Ivory compared a map of U.S. wildfires of 250 acres or more with a map of federally controlled lands; the two maps were nearly identical, he pointed out.

Ivory also argued that returning the land to state control would make Idaho more financially independent -- an important move, he said, as about 40 percent of Idaho's revenues come from the federal government, which is facing its own pending financial crisis.

"This is about economic self-reliance," Ivory said.

The idea isn't new to Idaho.

During the 2012 Republican state convention, Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, introduced a resolution to support the transfer of federal lands to the state. And the Idaho Republican Party platform includes the same idea: "The Idaho Republican Party believes that due to state and federal governments administering the majority of Idaho lands, we need to limit and reduce the amount of land owned or administered by the federal government. We believe Idaho should manage and administer all state and federal lands."

Utah's land transfer effort culminated in a bill that passed in 2012. The legislation asks the federal government to transfer the lands by the end of 2014. If the federal government does not, the state likely will pursue the matter in court. Utah's request doesn't include all federal lands, exempting national parks and tribal property.

Ivory said an effort in Idaho wouldn't have to be identical, and Idaho lawmakers would need to decide what course of action, if any, is right for the state.

Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, and Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, both said the presentation impressed them and changed their perceptions on the issue.

"They seem to have a well-laid-out argument," Wood said, adding that he wants to hear the other side.

Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, said, "It's an interesting concept," but had concerns about the resources it would take for the state to manage those lands.

Many of the federally owned lands don't have the roads or access required for the state to manage them, she said.

Getting to the point where the state can manage it is a long-term project, she said. She also worried that any money the state got from the lands would have to build up that infrastructure and maintain the lands.

The idea deserves discussion, she said. "But the devil's in the details."