Report: Idaho has a long history of selling state lands to private interests

May 4, 2016
Wilderness Society analysis shows how Idahoans could lose if public lands are transferred to the state

During its history, the state of Idaho has sold off more than 1.7 million acres of land to private interests, according to an analysis of land sale data by The Wilderness Society released this week.

The report, “SOLD! Idaho lands – and recreation access – lost to the highest bidder,” provides a stark example of what is likely to happen if special interests are successful in transferring public lands such as national forests to state control, as is advocated by some Idaho elected officials.

For the report, The Wilderness Society reviewed data from more than 16,000 parcels auctioned off by the state. The analysis details more than a century of land sales that have privatized and closed off an amount of once-accessible lands nearly the size of the entire Sawtooth National Forest. Parcels often end up in the hands of some of Idaho’s biggest industries, while others have been turned into gravel pits, strip malls and even exclusive private fishing retreats and lakeshore hideaways for those wealthy enough to buy them.

“National forests and other public lands are a cornerstone of Idaho’s heritage. They’re the places where we hunt, fish, camp, hike, bike and where many Idahoans make a living,” said Brad Brooks, The Wilderness Society’s Boise-based deputy regional director. “History is clear on what will happen if our national public lands are given to the state. They’re almost certain to end up in hands that will lock the public out.”

The report refutes claims by some politicians that public lands given to the states would not result in lost access or privatization of public lands. On the contrary, the report demonstrates that Idaho has a century-long legacy of selling its lands, a trend that continues to this day.

“The state of Idaho has a rich history of selling land it owns,” said Jerry Bullock of Blackfoot, a lifelong Safari Club International and National Rifle Association member. “The loss of access for sportsmen in Idaho would be staggering if the state were to get its hands on our Forest Service and BLM lands and state offcials follow their land-selling history with that land, too. What other behavior should we expect?”

The list of recipients of state land sales over the decades includes many influential Idaho corporations, such as the Simplot Corp., Potlatch and Boise-Cascade, as well as cattle companies and law firms. Others that also have been able to snatch up public land for their own include:

  • Bunker Hill Mining, a company with a long legacy in the Silver Valley, purchased 715 acres of state land.
  • Arizona-based mining conglomerate ASARCO Inc. purchased 321 acres of state land in 1991.
  • In 1967, Blue Lakes Country Club in Twin Falls purchased 87 acres of state land along the Snake River to develop an exclusive golf course.
  • Potlach Corp. purchased 17, 889 acres of state land between 1986 and 1997.

“Once these public lands end up in the hands of corporations and private individuals, the freedom to use and enjoy them is almost impossible to get back,” said James Holt, a Nez Perce Tribal member, former chairman of the Tribal Fish & Wildlife Commission and a Marine Corps veteran. “We’ve already lost access to 1.7 million acres of land. That’s land Idahoans won’t ever get back.”

Read our take on the issue
Download the PDF version of report here.
Learn more:  why we must defend public lands in Idaho 

Brad Brooks
(208) 350-2079