Idaho poised to debate public-land transfer

Utah's 2012 law spurs region to reconsider sales, ownership

By Rocky Barker

Associated Press

Published: Monday, March 18 2013 8:56 p.m. MDT

Even though much of the visitation hits rural communities, much of the spending is done in Idaho's urban areas, so the rural lawmakers backing the bill don't necessarily see the economic benefits of recreation in their districts. What they do see are reduced timber harvests and restrictions on grazing.

That's why Haunold is skeptical when lawmakers say they won't sell off the land if they can win a lawsuit upholding their plan and force Congress to turn it over, which Haunold thinks is a distinct long shot.

"As soon as they get their hands on it, they are going to sell off what they think is not valuable," he said. "They're going to fail, but along the way they will waste my taxpayer dollars."

Haunold thinks Idahoans from both parties are with him on keeping the public lands in federal hands.

In 2006, the last time the Idaho League of Conservation Voters polled Republican primary voters, 66 percent said they were more likely to support a candidate who was opposed to selling national forest land, said John Reuter, the league's executive director.

"It's bad policy, and it's bad politics," Reuter said. "Idaho Republicans, independents and Democrats agree that we should preserve Idaho public lands."

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, acknowledges the strong support for keeping the land under federal control. But he wants to change the conversation. People will change their minds, he said, if the state can show that it will create millions of dollars in new revenue for schools, roads, and health and welfare by efficiently managing the land — like it has done with state lands.

The resolution doesn't authorize the state to go to court, he said.

Bedke said he hopes people like Haunold will get involved in the interim committee's deliberations over the summer.

"I hope all stakeholders come to testify and make their points," Bedke said. "That's how we can all learn together."

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