Debate over federal lands in Idaho won’t end today

Via the Daily News: 

There are about 34 million acres of land owned and managed by the federal government in Idaho.

And if some Republican politicians get their way, all of that land will eventually be left to the state to manage.

While for years conservatives have been calling for the transfer of public lands to the states, this past summer the Republican Party took the step of adding the idea to its party platform, and if the GOP is able to maintain its control of Congress and Donald Trump takes the presidency, there is little standing in the way of the party achieving its stated goal.

Many fear states would not be able to afford to properly manage the lands, and that a transfer would ultimately lead to a sell-off of public lands to the ultra-rich, who in turn would limit access. Those in favor say the states would be able to better manage the lands and limit devastating fires, while also getting more out of the forests economically.

Area politicians are divided on the issue.

Carl Berglund, a Republican running to represent Latah and Benewah counties in the Idaho House of Representatives, said he is very much in support of a transfer because he believes the state can better manage the lands. He said many people are misinformed about the issue, thus leading some to believe the public will lose access to those lands.

“The conversation centers around fear-mongering,” Berglund said. “There’s a lot of misinformation that runs along the line of this … I simply argue the state can do a better job of managing public land, and I am not remotely suggesting the sale of public lands.”

He said he understands the fear, but he noted he is a hunter and doesn’t want to lose access to areas he hunts.

Berglund said the mismanaged forests are resulting in lost jobs at local mills too.

“My firm conviction is this conversation will never go away, it will get more serious no matter what happens on the national level,” he said. “The fact of the matter is hundreds of jobs have gone away and we continue to lose jobs in a sector of our economy that should be thriving.”

Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik, a Republican who has staunchly supported a transfer, was defeated in his May primary. He believes the loss was in part because of his stance in favor of an Idaho public land transfer.

While Berglund calls the conversation of land transfer one of fear-mongering, Chmelik calls it the “perpetual con game.” He said he doesn’t want to take away Idahoans rights to public land – he just wants the lands to be managed.

Chmelik said he supports U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador’s approach of using the Good Neighbor Authority Act to allow governors to identify federal forest lands at risk of disease and work with federal agencies to restore forests. Chmelik said decaying forests need to be cleared to slow the aggressive wildfires that have been plaguing Idaho in recent years.

He said he would prefer a constitutional amendment that requires more than two-thirds of the vote for land to be sold or put into a land trust. He said public trust funds could be created so the lands could be managed locally.

“Let’s make sure these lands aren’t stolen out from underneath us,” Chmelik said. “I’m with the people – I don’t want to sell these lands.”

Neither Chmelik nor Berglund think the transfer of public lands to the state will happen anytime soon, but it’s a conversation they don’t see going away.

“It’ll take baby steps – you have teach them to crawl before they walk,” Chmelik said, noting it could be going on for several more decades.

Via the Daily News