Revealed: Idaho appears to have violated state constitution in selling off land

Idaho's state capitol in Boise. The state has apparently violated the anti-corruption provisions in its constitution repeatedly.

Credit: Jimmy Emerson, DVM, flickr.

Idaho has sold off tracts of land in apparent violation of its own constitution roughly 300 times, calling into question some politicians' claims that state-seized public lands wouldn't be in danger of liquidation.

Building on previous findings that Idaho has privatized and closed off more than 1.7 million acres of  land, a new report shows that the state has repeatedly broken its own rules about how much land can be sold off to a single buyer.  

More than 20% of land sold off by Idaho to benefit public schools and universities appears to have been sold in violation of limits imposed by the state constitution 

“Public lands and the access they provide to Idahoans every day is what makes our state so incredible,” said Brad Brooks, deputy director of the Idaho office of The Wilderness Society, in a statement.  “History shows that given the chance, local politicians are happy to sell off Idaho’s lands, even apparently dodging the Constitution to do so.” 

This underscores once again that we must be wary of politicians who want states to seize national public lands but deny that this will lead to these landscapes being privatized or sold off to corporations. 

READ: Our findings on Idaho's apparent constitutional violations [PDF] 

Most state lands under the authority of the Idaho Department of Lands are managed to benefit public schools and universities, with purchases of that land capped at a certain acreage. Analysis by The Wilderness Society and Idaho Conservation League shows that of the 919,914 acres sold in this manner, about 206,240 acres—more than 20 percent—was sold in potential violation of the state's own constitution. 

Idaho's land sale limits were instituted to prevent any single person, corporation or other entity from amassing too much state property. But our data show that hundreds of separate buyers appear to have breached this standard, with timber and livestock companies among the most prolific rule-flouters.   

Idaho's land sale patterns are a bad harbinger for the nation 

A dangerous movement of politicians at the state, local and national level is trying to seize Our Wild public lands. Once under state control, forests and other recreation lands are managed for maximum revenue, which can mean being sold off to commercial interests. Idaho offers an ideal case study for how seemingly noble rhetoric about "reducing the federal estate" can lead to policies that prioritize short-term economic gain over outdoor access and the wellbeing of our natural heritage. 

A Wilderness Society report published in 2016 showed that since it gained statehood in 1890, Idaho has given 41 percent of its original territory to corporations or other private interests. In many cases, these sales have cut off public access to cherished outdoor recreation spots or even allowed lands to become industrialized. 

Currently, Idaho's state legislature is considering a bill that would require all state agencies to prioritize the privatization of state lands. As our findings have shown, this would be tantamount to putting these tracts in the hands of industrial interests or wealthy private citizens.