Legislation pending in the Senate would create a permanent council to monitor and review policies dealing with federal lands in Idaho. It’s poorly constructed, poorly thought through and has ignored public input. Senators should reject it and go back to the drawing board.
There are ongoing problems with the management of federal lands, no one doubts that. But there has been promising progress on that front at the federal level, led by Idaho’s Congressional delegation and other western lawmakers from both parties.
Idaho has a model for resolving federal lands issues: bring everyone to the table, and work through the slow process of coming to a compromise. This bill has been the opposite of that, pushed by the former director of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation and failing to gain support from sportsmen, conservationists, outdoor recreationists and other significant groups.
The committee would be composed of eight lawmakers chosen by the House speaker and Senate pro tem. There’s no guarantee of any minority party representation.
The public process leading up to the bill was essentially nonexistent. While the Senate hearing was announced and scheduled at the last minute — a move which itself speaks to an effort to avoid hearing from the public — well over 400 people attended, 150 of whom wanted to testify in opposition. Only seven were allowed to.
Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, thought it sufficient to let the rest of them raise their hands instead, and then promptly conclude the hearing. This is not only disrespectful to the public, it’s a recipe for a doomed effort.
The commission most closely resembles the Federal Lands Interim Committee that was set up under the leadership of then-representative and now-Secretary of State Lawerence Denney several years ago.
That effort turned into something between a boondoggle and a taxpayer-financed campaign tour. The committee did a year of fact-finding, a year of touring (ahead of Denney’s statewide election bid) to take public testimony and stuffed a fat wad of cash in a lawyer’s pocket. Apart from that, it did a whole lot of nothing at all.
Compare this to the successful, if difficult, processes that have led to the successful resolution public lands issues in the state, from Rep. Mike Simpson’s protection of the iconic Boulder-White Clouds to Sen. Jim Risch’s roadless rule to Sen. Mike Crapo’s Owyhee Initiative to former Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s Sage Grouse Initiative. What have all of these had in common? They were resolved by collaborative processes that brought everyone to the table — ranchers and hunters, dirt bikers and backpackers, industry and conservation groups.
Want to set up a commission to deal with public lands, one of the most important issues in Idaho? You’re going to need all those folks protesting outside the Capitol at the table.