Idaho wants its land back

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

The Idaho state Senate passed a resolution that demands the federal government cede the state about 16 million of acres of public lands, arguing that federal control over large portions of the state has hindered the local economy.

State senators voted 21-13 to approve the resolution, which was already passed by the state House, advancing the argument that the state can better manage the lands than the federal government can. Lawmakers also argued that it would help the state’s economy.

“If we were to get some of those acres of timber… and utilize that biomass that is going to waste, we could generate jobs and electricity that we could then sell out of state,” said Republican state Sen. Marv Hagedorn. “There are some good reasons why we should do this, and putting people back to work is a great reason.”

Last year, the Utah legislature demanded the federal government transfer 20 million acres to the state by 2014. State lawmakers have threatened to sue the federal government because U.S. officials had gone back on a  pledge to hand over control of federal lands in each state.

Roughly 64 percent of Idaho is under federal control, a situation similar to many other Western states.

Democratic state Sen. Michelle Stennett said that decades ago Idaho’s attorney general found that such a land transfer violated Idaho’s Constitution. She added that collaborative efforts between the federal government and environmentalists would be more constructive.

“Senators, the only reason you want title to a land is to sell it,” she said. “And I don’t think Idaho should be for sale.”

“I’m not blaming the federal agencies, but rather a bureaucratic dysfunctional system,” said Republican state House Speaker Lawerence Denney. “Certainly, it’s not our intention to acquire title to it, to sell it to the highest bidder.”

Denney added that one billion board feet of timber could be cut down each year, which would create jobs, reduce fire danger, and protect wildlife and recreation.

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