Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik’s crusade to press the federal government to transfer federal public lands to the states is arriving in the Treasure Valley next week, when Russ and Kara Fulcher will hold a fundraiser at their home for Chmelik’s new corporation, the Western Landmark Foundation, with special guests Chmelik and 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador. The event also touts Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney as a special guest, but he told Eye on Boise today he won't be attending due to a schedule conflict.
Labrador’s spokesman, Dan Popkey, confirmed that Labrador will take part in the Tuesday evening event, at which, according to an emailed invitation, “We will ‘pass the hat’ for donations to Western Landmark Foundation.” “Yes, the congressman plans to attend,” Popkey said in an email. “He looks forward to a discussion on more effective ways to protect and manage our federal lands and natural resources.” The event is billed as "an evening with friends in support of the Western Landmark Foundation."
In mid-June, the Lewiston Tribune reported that Chmelik had hit the road trying to drum up support for his new group, traveling to speak to county commissioners in western states. He told the paper his goal is to gather support and financial commitments from 100 counties in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming and New Mexico. His new firm was incorporated March 6 as an Idaho limited liability company, with just Chmelik, at his Cottonwood home, listed as both the registered agent and director/officer.
Chmelik told the Tribune his new group would “work side by side with the American Lands Council,” the organization founded by Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory with the same aim; that group has received criticism for spending more than half the money it raises on a $95,000 annual salary for Ivory. Chmelik said then that he wouldn’t ask for money for the new group until he gets at least 50 counties on board, and then he’d ask counties for $3,500 to $5,000 donations to further the group’s goals. The newspaper also reported that Idaho County, where Chmelik is county commission chairman, hadn’t donated to the new group, but has contributed $5,000 in each of the past three years to the American Lands Council to support its lobbying efforts.
Chmelik told Eye on Boise today that he’s been on the road almost continuously since mid-June, trying to line up a coalition of counties from western states to file a class-action lawsuit against the federal government seeking the lands. “I believe there’s legal strategies we can take,” he said. “We’re up to 11 counties.” Chmelik said, "If these forests were managed properly, I wouldn't be running around doing what I'm doing, and I think we'd have a better quality of life in our rural communities."
He said when he collects money from counties, it’ll go to a separate non-profit corporation from Montana, Citizens for Balanced Use; the Western Landmark Foundation LLC is entirely privately funded, he said, and is paying his expenses as he travels. “The Western Landmark Foundation was set up because I don’t want to intermingle any public dollars into what I’m doing to pay my bills,” Chmelik said. “It takes a lot of money to drive around and get in airplanes and rent cars to do this, and I’ve got bills to pay too. That’s what the Western Landmark Foundation was set up to do, and private people have funded that.”
Denney said, “I will not be at that event, I was invited but I have a conflict so I won’t be able to be there. I am interested in what they’re doing as far as managing public lands.” However, he said, “I don’t know anything about this organization that Mr. Chmelik is forming. So I’m interested in finding out more about it.”
Fulcher said he, too, didn’t know much about the new group. “For me, it’s more about the issue” of public lands, he said. “I am a big believer in the management of it being local. … It just needs to be managed at the local level, not the federal level, because they’re not doing it and they’re not the right people to do it.”
Chmelik challenged Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little in the GOP primary in 2014, running on a federal lands transfer platform; he drew just 33.2 percent of the vote to Little’s 66.8 percent.