State Schools Superintendent Anne Fox believes the state of Idaho could initiate legal action against the federal government for ownership of federal lands within its borders if a similar legal claim by Nevada’s Nye County prevails.
“I think there is potential Nye County will win,” Fox said despite an informal legal assessment to the contrary from Attorney General Alan Lance. Fox maintained Idaho should have a right to federal lands inside its borders.
But other members of the state Land Board, on which she serves, have taken the opposite view of the western campaign to strip the federal government of land control.
The board, headed by Gov. Phil Batt, declined to act on a Custer County request that the state unilaterally assume ownership of a piece of land the Forest Service purchased several years ago. And former Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus called the drive to take control of federal lands “the single most ridiculous thing for the people of Idaho to do.”
Custer County Commissioner Len Hintzes said the county is still considering joining Nye County, Nev., in the lawsuit against to end federal land control despite Lance’s assessment.
The attorney general advised Custer County Prosecutor G. Michael Lee earlier this spring that while the Nye County claim is “intellectually interesting” it is legally untenable.
Lance specifically cited the essentially adverse assessment of that case by Nevada Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa.
“I believe your agenda is principally a political, not legal, one,” Del Papa advised Nye County officials. “Both as an attorney and as an elected, constitutional officer of the state of Nevada, I find it impossible to press the legal arguments upon which you rely.”
Lance pointed out that the Idaho Supreme Court has consistently recognized federal authority to regulate federal lands in Idaho as the Nevada Supreme Court has.
And like Nevada, Idaho citizens disclaimed all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the state’s boundaries in Idaho’s constitution, Lance told Lee.
The Idaho constitution was expressly approved and accepted by Congress and Idaho also agreed that disclaimer section is irrevocable without congressional consent and approval by the people.
“Therefore, any challenge to the existence of public lands would be difficult,” Lance said.