State officials are debating if they should allow groups to lease public land in a way that could prevent public access. A half-dozen times over the years, the Idaho Department of Lands has received applications for permission to lease state endowment land for an exclusive private hunting operation. Every time, the department has said no.
Now another application is on its way, from a group wanting to set up an exclusive pheasant hunting operation in eastern Idaho. State officials aren’t inclined to go along, but the continuing proposals have prompted review of just how Idaho handles recreation on state lands that Idahoans cherish; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
“It probably goes without saying: Idahoans love the outdoors, they love their access,” said Emily Callihan, department spokeswoman. Seventy percent of Idaho’s endowment lands have public access for hunting, fishing, hiking, berry-picking and the like; even lands leased for grazing still are required to be open to the public.
But the Idaho Constitution requires the state Land Board, which consists of the state’s five top elected officials, to manage state endowment lands for “maximum long-term financial return,” with the money going to the endowment’s beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state’s public school system. The state currently doesn’t charge a fee for folks to go berry-picking, hiking or sightseeing on state lands. And several neighboring states make up to $1 million a year from recreation on their endowment lands, either from user fees or leases with other state agencies, including parks and fish and game.
Idaho has never issued exclusive leases for recreational operations on state endowment lands. Even its 20 active permits and leases to outfitters, while they are exclusive with regard to other outfitters, still let the public use the same areas.
State Land Board members are leery of the private pheasant-hunting plan. Secretary of State Lawerence Denney said he doesn’t want the state going there. “We haven’t in the past,” he said. “But I think it’s something that we definitely need to look at, because our fiduciary responsibility is to get the highest return. There may be some ways we can get revenue for the state and still have it be totally open.”