Anyone who has been to Idaho has seen the beautiful landscapes throughout the state. The forests, grasslands and waterways across Idaho are extremely important for the state economy and are often the cause of fervent debate.
According to the Bureau of Land Management, just over 63 percent of Idaho is federally controlled land. Federal control can be both a blessing and a curse, but hopeful state representatives have been working to take control of these lands. Transferring federal land to state control is an honorable goal, but taking possession of said land must be analyzed, discussed and publicized.
Many Idaho politicians who support state management cite the economic potential controlling these lands could unlock. According to the Idaho Department of Lands, Idaho could make anywhere from $50 million to $75 million annually for Idaho’s public schools.
This extra revenue would obviously receive a warm welcome in the state, which has been trying to improve schools for years. The Idaho state government, the forest service and the IDL have faith in the states ability to manage these lands in a responsible and sustainable manner.
Conservation groups like the Idaho Conservation League are understandably skeptical. Many Idaho legislators have cited private ownership of Idaho lands as the end game of the transfer. Private ownership could spell a corporate takeover of otherwise communal land.
Conserving Idaho’s natural beauty, and mostly untouched scenery, should be a motivation for many politicians. However, budgets obviously must be met and in a state, which makes $1 for every $1.27 it receives from the federal government, economic growth through any means necessary does not seem unreasonable. In fact, it might even be a political necessity for some.
Unlike states with similar plans such as Utah and Wyoming, Idaho’s lands do not have known oil reserves, which would provide an economic boom the likes of which the state has not seen in over a century. Instead, Idaho is rich in timber and minerals, both of which must be harvested on a larger scale carefully to avoid environmental damage.
Mines in northern Idaho have already hurt the landscape through killing trees and polluting waterways. These pollutants have caused the Coeur d’ Alene Tribal Council and the U.S. Justice Department to pursue a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Union Pacific Railroad. Private ownership of valuable landscapes has proven disastrous in the past. Legislators and citizens advocating for transfer must play an active role in preventing similar abuse.
Idahoans stand to lose a lot if this transfer is not well thought out, and unfortunately it is hard telling how this will play out. Luckily though in a state as small as Idaho, it is never hard for average citizens to insert themselves into the conversation.
Transparency and discussion are vital to moving forward. Idaho’s natural beauty is one of its defining characteristics. Once it is gone, it will not come back. While extra money for the state is always nice, potentially permanent changes should never be taken lightly.
can be reached at