BOISE – Republican and Democratic leaders in the Idaho Senate joined Monday to introduce a resolution opposing any sell-off of Idaho’s federal lands, as proposed by the Bush administration.
The Legislature is the most Republican in the nation, yet on this issue, it is critical of the White House.
“There’s not that much daylight between the Republicans and the Democrats on this issue,” said Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Brad Little, R-Emmett. “The Democrats obviously want to stir the pot a little bit, but there’s pretty good agreement on both sides.”
Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, added, “This is of grave concern to a large number of people.”
No similar resolution was adopted by the Washington Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats.
The administration proposes selling 309,000 of 193 million acres managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The proposed sale includes about 26,000 acres in Idaho and 7,500 in Washington – likely the largest single sell-off since the U.S. Forest Service was founded 101 years ago.
Money raised from the land sales would support a federal program meant to help rural counties weather the decline of logging on federal land. The administration has proposed phasing out the so-called County Payments program, which has injected billions of dollars into school and road budgets in heavily forested counties across the West.
The proposed land sales have stirred a hornet’s nest of criticism from recreation groups, environmentalists, and state and local officials.
“I think somewhat unilateral actions by the administration or Congress to make changes in public lands without lots and lots of local input is going to be viewed with a lot of skepticism,” Little said. “The message to the feds is, if they’re going to dispose of land we need to be pretty significant players in that desire.”
At a Democratic press conference Monday, Stennett said, “These proposals are so wacky that they might be dismissed as just a radical right-wing fringe idea, but they’re very real. … This issue cuts deep into Idaho’s heritage and its culture. Public lands are why we live here. It’s our second paycheck.”
Earlier, he had complained that Republican leaders were squelching his resolution opposing the land sales and not allowing a hearing on it. At the time, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said he’d thought Stennett’s measure was about 1st District Congressman Butch Otter’s sponsorship of a bill seeking to sell off public lands to raise money for disaster relief – a sponsorship Otter dropped after a huge political outcry in Idaho.
Otter is running for governor.
But Davis said the two parties had similar feelings about the administration proposal and the importance of Idaho’s public lands.
The Senate State Affairs Committee, a panel composed entirely of members of leadership from both parties, voted unanimously to introduce a new, bipartisan resolution co-sponsored by Stennett, Little, and Senate Resources Chairman Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow.
The joint memorial, a non-binding measure that sends a message to Congress about the Idaho Legislature’s position, states in part, “Idahoans value outdoor experiences very highly and generations of Idahoans and other Americans have enjoyed this federal land through activities such as hunting, fishing, camping and hiking.” SJM 120 concludes, “We are opposed to any proposals which lead to a significant sale of federal land located in the state of Idaho.”
If the feds want to get rid of parcels of land in Idaho, the resolution says, “they should cede them to the state.”
Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said, “I think in a state like Idaho, which is known for its beautiful outdoors … I just think land is precious. I think it’s something that is of great value.”
In fact, Kempthorne said, he wants more public land in Idaho – in the form of new state parks. His $34 million parks proposal, dubbed “Experience Idaho,” is pending in the Legislature.