Special interests aim for Idaho's wildlands - 7 reasons to fight back

Across the West and in Idaho, a dangerous movement of radical fringe groups and oil, mining and other development interests are buying off politicians to “transfer” America’s federal wildlands to the states where they can be sold to private companies for profit.

Image: Lands in Salmon Challis National Forest and other areas would likely be sold if the state takes over. Photo by Mason Cummings/TWS

Across the West and in Idaho, a dangerous movement of radical fringe groups and oil, mining and other development interests are buying off politicians to “transfer” America’s federal wildlands to the states where they can be sold to private companies for profit.

These extremists want the states to take over national forest lands, Bureau of Land Management lands, and even wildlife refuge and national park lands. In Idaho this could mean seizure and sale of beloved recreation lands in places like the Sawtooth Range, Hells Canyon and even Mount Borah. What would happen to these lands? Read on to find out.

Reasons for Americans to fight against land takeovers in Idaho

1) State land takeover efforts are a guise for a larger movement to privatize wildlands:  Since 2013, anti-public lands politicians in Idaho have introduced eight land seizure bills. Two of these bills passed in 2013, including a taxpayer funded study of taking over public lands and a resolution demanding title transfer of public lands directly to Idaho. As in other states, many of these legislative efforts tie back to campaigns by billionaires like the Koch brothers and mining and oil interests who would like to develop the land. 

2) Lands that were once used for hiking, hunting and fishing will be sold: Idaho’s constitution mandates that state lands be managed to maximize economic return.  This means that, under the fiscal burden of managing newly transferred lands, Idaho would be forced to lease or sell them off to balance their state budgets. A recent Wilderness Society report on Idaho lands, shows that, in fact, Idaho has sold off 1.7 million acres of land. Of those lands, parcels often landed in the hands of some of Idaho’s biggest industries, while others were turned into gravel pits, strip malls and exclusive private retreats and lakeshore hideaways for the wealthy. 

Sign the petition: Tell decision makers not to sell your wildlands!

3) Regular people will be locked out of beloved lands: In Idaho, there are 32 million acres of public land that are home to some of the wildest places left in the country. These lands are currently open for camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, biking, off-road riding and other multiple uses.  If they are sold or leased, everyday Americans will be locked out.

4) Land takeovers will create a huge financial burden that Idaho cannot manage: While supporters of the public land transfer say that timber harvests would flourish under state management, revenues from it would do little to offset the millions of dollars needed by Idaho for land management expenses.“Research shows that Idaho would lose more than $100 million a year.” Again, this economic burden will result in the sale of lands to balance budgets. 

5) Firefighting efforts undermined: Idaho depends on federal firefighters to control wildfires within the state. By seizing federal lands, Idaho would be responsible for the duties of public land managers. This includes providing enough staff and equipment to combat wildfires. Wildland firefighting costs last year topped $2 billion across the country, with costs in Idaho exceeding $200 million. One bad fire year cost could decimate state budgets, forcing the state to sell land to cover the deficit.

Image above: Sign from state lands in Idaho, by Brad Brooks

6) It's out of touch with Idahoans: Many people live in Idaho because of the freedom to access the great outdoors. Out-of-state, corporate interests who want to line their pockets are out of touch with local values. Idahoans treasure these lands because they contribute to healthy communities, protect our natural environment, attract businesses and talent, and provide endless outdoor recreation opportunities. In fact:

• 92% of Idahoans agree that outdoor recreation is an essential part of Idaho’s economy
• At least 74% of Idaho residents participate in outdoor recreation each year
• Outdoor recreation generates over 76,000 homegrown Idaho jobs and $6.3 billion in consumer spending in the state.
The public access provided by shared national lands will be lost if these lands are sold and privatized, threatening the Idahoan way of life. Transferring control of public lands is not in the interest of Idaho, its people, or its economy.

7) Idahoans are against it: In addition to being out of touch with what every day Idahoans want, many of the states leaders are against such takeovers. For instance, Idaho Attorney General, Lawrence Wasden, a Republican, says the land takeover agenda is a threat to the future of the state:“The transfer of those lands to Idaho would be a dramatic change in both the economy and character of Idaho and particularly in the public access for much of the lands within Idaho.”

James Holt, a Nez Perce Tribal member, former chairman of the Tribal Fish & Wildlife Commission and a Marine Corps veteran says he worries about an irreversible loss of freedom. “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,”he said. “We’ve already lost access to 1.7 million acres of land. That’s land Idahoans won’t ever get back.”

Take Action

Sportsmen, business leaders, rational elected officials and conservationists are standing together to prevent land seizure measures from becoming law. But they need support to show politicians that Americans won’t tolerate state land seizure efforts in Idaho or elsewhere.
The threat is real, and now is the time to stand up.

Sign the petition to send a clear message that our national public lands belong to all of us, the people, and should remain that way forever.

DIG DEEPER: Read our report on how Idaho has sold off 1.7 million acres of land to private interests