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With public land debate, lawmakers are wasting our time and money

Chris HaunoldAs an Idaho recreation business owner, I must say that this silly ideological chatter about the state of Idaho taking over the management or ownership of our federal lands is frustrating.

Our state legislators are wasting our taxpayer money evaluating this Tea Party-driven idea that has been repeatedly shown by legal scholars to be unconstitutional. If the far right-wing of our state Legislature continues to go down this path, they will waste more taxpayer money on lawsuits arising from this bald-faced land grab. Ultimately, if the state actually tried to manage U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management lands in Idaho, they would zap our state budget, and the state would be forced to sell off federal lands to private industry, cutting off vital public access to our federal lands. In the end, recreation businesses, including those driving the sale of firearms and motorized vehicles, would be harmed for no good reason.

Our federal lands in Idaho include 20 million acres of national forest land, from the top of the Boise Foothills to the Canadian border. The BLM manages 12.5 million acres in southern Idaho north and south of the Snake River. In terms of sheer numbers, recreation activities are far and away the predominant use on our federal lands, including camping, scenic drives, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, hunting, motorcycle and ATV riding, backcountry skiing, and snowshoeing. These activities generate more than 77,000 jobs, $6.3 billion in consumer spending, $1.8 billion in wages, and $461 million in state and local tax revenue on an annual basis, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

Idahoans love their public lands; they use them frequently, and they spend money on the latest toys to enjoy these areas in many ways. From my perspective, this trend is growing every year.

So why would legislators want to take away our federal lands and ruin a situation that’s not broken? Politicians like to beat up on the federal government on one hand, and then, with the other hand, they want to get all of the money and resources provided by the feds – giving the appearance of a state-supported, balanced budget.

A lot of people don’t realize that the Idaho Department of Lands, the agency that lawmakers want to manage our federal lands, doesn’t even have a recreation program! Not one dollar goes toward recreation. Not one recreation staff person exists. So how could IDL all of a sudden gear up to manage millions of acres of recreation resources on federal lands? They couldn’t without a substantial tax increase or a huge increase in user-pay recreation fees.

Just think if there were a bunch of wildfires in one summer, like we’ve had almost every year lately, and suddenly the state had to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for fire suppression. This scenario would cripple the state budget. It would have to sell off the lands – which is probably lawmakers’ real agenda – and we’d all suffer. We’d lose access to our beloved recreation areas, and there would be no money for post-fire rehab to provide important services such as repairing natural resources and reopening trails. Many businesses, including outdoor retailers, would feel the loss.

The interim committee studying the state takeover of federal lands is expected to spend about $10,000 over two years, according to the legislative budget office. They’re going to spend that money studying an idea that we already know is dead on arrival from a legal and financial perspective. And they’re wasting taxpayer money doing it.

I suggest state lawmakers spend a tiny fraction of that money investing in travel to Idaho’s federal lands and our outdoor retail stores. I think it would be helpful for them to see how outdoor recreation is one of the largest industries in Idaho, and an industry that is growing. Do your homework, folks! Stop wasting our financial resources on one more bad idea. And then stop trying to undercut a vital, expanding industry in a small state that needs all of its business activities to thrive.

Chris Haunold is the owner of Idaho Mountain Touring, an outdoor recreation retailer with stores in downtown Boise and Meridian.

About Chris Haunold

12 comments

  1. The respondent “Jim” (an Idaho County Commissioner?) posts nothing more than perverted fabrications. He says: “We were never given our lands, therefore, Fed ownership of those lands is contested.” That is a lie. Idaho received at admission approximately 1.6 million acres, out of a land base of 53,530,880 acres. And this is in accord with historic 3% land grants (c. 1818 etc.) upon admission for example, Indiana, Missouri, Alabama, Mississippi…. I’ll let Jim-bo do the math.

    This supposed “deal” that Jim-bo spews about is another of his lies. I demand strict written proof in the laws where this is so, or Jim-bo is a liar. In fact, without strict proof, Jim-bo is also a hypocrite because he is practicing what he condemns…his own hearsay.

    The truth is the federal forest lands were already held in the US Forest Reserve by 1884, while Idaho was still a Territory. And Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution of the United States is very plain regarding ownership of Federal lands…”nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to prejudice any claims of the United States”. Nothing shall be so construed, and certainly not Jim-bo’s rabid falsifications and foaming greed.

    His claim that “this talk about it being unconstitutional is a bunch of hearsay” is yet another flat out lie. The Admission Act of Idaho (1890) required a State Constitution prior to admission. That Idaho Constitution, ratified by the Territory and accepted by the Court and the Union of States, says at Article XXI, Section 19: “And the people of the state of Idaho do agree and declare that we forever disclaim all right and title to the un-appropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof.” Forever disclaim all right and title.

    Jim-bo wants to break faith. Jim-bo wants to disobey both the Idaho and United States the Constitutions. Jim-bo wants to move boundary stones. Jim-bo wants to take. Jim-bo is a bad boy. Bad Jim-bo, Bad.

  2. Chris, great article. I’m very familiar with the fact that ranchers would not be the winners under this land grab agenda, as Lance described above. Your frustration with the federal land grab mirrors my own. In fact, I believe all business owners who are monetized by the recreation/tourism industry should take time to write a guest blog just like you have. That would include myself. I provide web services for approximately a dozen or more outfitter businesses in Idaho who earn their keep through recreation. Its spelled T-O-U-R-I-S-M. Idaho is aptly named the GEM state. Maybe because of its minerals, rocks and gems, but in my mind, the attraction of public lands for those who enjoy the rivers mountains and streams is the biggest GEM of all. This article reflects my sentiments completely. And further, for anyone who is well informed on the subject knows, the “back of the napkin” estimate that the politico spuds are pivoting on to try to make some economic sense of the land disposal, is an arrogant as well as ignorant approach to the realities of what it would mean to dispose of the millions of acres of public land to the state. The state does wish to privatize ultimately, and its not the ranchers nor the “taxpaying citizens” of Idaho who accumulated wealth due to hard work and diligence over the years. Dear friends, it is the politicians and real estate companies like Western Pacific Timber who will line their pockets indeed. Idaho education will still rank low in the US.

  3. Well the whole point of the matter is undisputed.Everthing i have read shows most people think it should stay in the feds hands even though the alot of people disagree with the way the feds manage the land.But most people would rather let the feds keep control than the state selling off the lands,which is the biggest fear.Why live in Idaho if there aint no public land to use!There aint nothing else to do in this boring state!

  4. I disagree with the author on most points. I understand his concerns and I don’t think he is entirely off base. What I can say is that the Feds do not run a good show. The forest service created the problems we have in our forests now. They were responsible for the “10am policy” where all wildfires were to be declared out by 10am the following day, or that was the goal. This policy lasted for nearly 70 years and created the overgrown mess most of our national forests have become.

    I don’t trust them to make the right decisions. Furthermore, this talk about it being unconstitutional is a bunch of hearsay. Part of the deal when western states were granted statehood was the exchange of federal control of lands over to the respective states. The last western state that received this exchange was Nebraska. We were never given our lands, therefore, Fed ownership of those lands is contested.

  5. Well written and thought out piece Chris, while I don’t agree with all that you said I do agree with the main point. This is unconstitutional and frankly will not go anywhere so why waste the resources and time when there are many many things that deserve lucrative debate and consideration.

  6. This nuts and twigs Chris guy sounds like a real commie nut-job to me! He’s not American!

  7. In response to Lance,Well Lance if the ranchers wanted they could turn it into farmland or charge trespass fees to go hunting,fishing,whatever.Plus graze their cattle too.So yeah Lance in that perspective they stand to make alot more money than they would pay for the land!And i noticed you failed to point out the Rich snoots.Cause you know they would surely buy it all up!

  8. In response to Mark’s comment, I would have to say that you are WAY off base. While I agree with the article that the management of federal lands should stay in the hands of the federal government because of the financial responsibility the state would have to take on, I greatly disagree that the “ranchers are just waiting for this.” From a livestock production standpoint, it makes more sense to keep federal lands under the management of federal agencies because the BLM and USFS offers lower payments for grazing than the state. The cost of ownership on marginal producing lands exceeds the revenues that can be generated from livestock grazed on the land, so what is the incentive for ranchers to buy it all up? The only reason that ranchers would want to buy marginal land is to protect and restrict access to lands that they already own which is intermingled with federal lands, and that are damaged due to trespass from recreationists. I’m not from ID, but I know what the livestock industry does for the state of WY and the rural communities. I think that you should understand what the livestock industry does for your state before pointing the finger for something that they have no stake in.

  9. And im sure Otter already has his piece staked!!!

  10. I totally agree!All the ranchers are just waiting for this and all the wealthy people of Idaho so they can buy it all up!!

  11. Thanks for such an insightful piece.

  12. Outstanding. Thank you, Chris.