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Otter makes pitch for state control of public land

Idaho’s governor told congressional lawmakers he believes the state could do a better job of managing public lands, making forests healthier and potentially reducing the size, scope and intensity of wildfires.

Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” was among several to testify Feb. 26 in Washington, D.C., at a hearing hosted by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation.

Otter, a former congressman, urged the committee to create a pilot project that would give Idaho control over 2 million of the more than 20 million acres of federal public land in the state, similar to a program recommended in 1998 by the Idaho Federal Lands Task Force.

Turning over those lands to a trust board, charged with increasing revenue and taking a more aggressive management posture, would benefit the state and local economies, the governor said. He pointed to the 1.7 million acres of Idaho forests and rangeland that burned last year, costing the state and federal government $214 million.

“It appears to folks in Idaho the federal government would rather see a valuable resource go up in smoke than be harvested and create some much-needed jobs for rural communities,” Otter testified, according to a story published Feb. 27 by the Idaho Statesman.

The committee is looking at a variety of options for managing federal lands, reducing fire and increasing benefits to states, including forest trust programs already operating in 22 states.

“I believe our forests and public lands are long overdue for a paradigm shift,” said Republican Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, the subcommittee’s chairman.

The discussion on Capitol Hill comes as some in the Idaho statehouse are considering the benefits of state management of federal lands.

Earlier this year, Idaho lawmakers heard a presentation from a Utah lawmaker who led legislative efforts in Salt Lake City that demanded the federal government turn over acreage to the state by 2014.

That legislation exempts national parks, monuments, wilderness areas, Indian reservations and military bases. Should the feds ignore the deadline, state lawmakers would have to pursue legal action, negotiation or some other approach designed to meet their goal.

GOP Rep. Lawerence Denney of Midvale, chairman of the House Resources and Conservation Committee, said members of the panel have crafted a draft resolution laying out the case for state ownership. Copies are being circulated privately prior to introduction.

Denney told the Lewiston Tribune the goal is to have the Utah-style legislation ready for 2014.

“We want an interim study committee to draft that,” Denney said.

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