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Eye On Boise

Audit planned on past sales of Idaho endowment lands

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — The director of the Idaho Department of Lands says the agency's records involving decades-old sales of state lands will be examined after two environmental groups say many of the sales violated Idaho's Constitution.

"I intend to hire an independent auditor to review IDL's records and advise the Land Board on its findings," Tom Schultz told the Lewiston Tribune (

The Idaho Land Board includes Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and four other statewide elected officeholders.

The Wilderness Society and Idaho Conservation League, using information obtained through a public records request, say the state may have illegally sold about 200,000 acres of state land because the sales violated limits set in the Idaho Constitution.

The most recent of the sales occurred in 1987.

The environmental groups say the sales call into question claims by some lawmakers that states wouldn't sell off federal public lands if they were turned over to states.

The U.S. House in January made it easier to transfer millions of acres of federal public lands to states by passing a rule eliminating a significant budget hurdle and written so broadly that it includes national parks.

"History shows that given the chance, local politicians and bureaucrats have proven happy to sell off Idaho's lands, even dodging the constitution to do so," said Brad Brooks of The Wilderness Society.

Idaho received 3.65 million acres of endowment land at statehood in 1890 that generates money, mainly for public schools. The state has about 2.44 million acres left, and the Land Board has a constitutional responsibility to manage that land to maximize financial returns over the long term.

The environmental groups contend that the state Constitution prohibits the sale of more than 320 acres of school endowment land to any one individual or company, and no more than 160 acres of endowment land benefiting the state's universities to any one entity.

But the environmental groups say the prohibition appears to have been violated nearly 300 times. One of the largest, the groups say, includes 7,091 acres sold to Boise Payette Lumber company, a precursor to Boise Cascade Company.

The groups also cite 21 different individuals buying land in the early 1900s for the Osgood Livestock company totaling 5,787 acres of state land.

"It provides a cautionary tale for those who would seek to seize public land," said Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League. "We need to keep these apparent violations in the front of our minds as those proposals continue to be floated and discussed in the U.S. Congress and the Idaho Legislature."

Schultz said that current members of the Idaho Land Board don't advocate for the transfer of federal land to Idaho.

The legal ramifications of the old land sales if they turn out to have violated the state's Constitution aren't clear. The Idaho attorney general's office on Wednesday in an email to The Associated Press said it would first need to see the specific results of an audit on the decades-old sales before evaluating the state's legal options.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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