BOISE • Several bills designed to increase state and local control of federal public lands were introduced in Boise this year, plus a resolution calling on the state to preserve public access and not lease any state lands exclusively. Only one passed.
In Congress, a few bills are pending. Even if they ever pass the House, where the Republicans have a 58-vote majority, their chances of passing the Senate are less certain and their chances of getting signed into law even less so.
Here’s a recap:
• Bill: Senate Bill 1338
Sponsor: Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood
What it does: Let county authorities declare a “catastrophic public nuisance” and demand federal land management agencies come up with a plan to deal with problems if the county worries the land’s maintenance is leading to a public safety risk. Wildfires are the main risk cited by the bill’s supporters.
What happened: It passed on mostly party-line votes and has been signed into law.
This was the only bill of the five here to be introduced in February; the others were introduced in March. The Legislature adjourned March 25, which could have been a factor in some of the bills not getting Senate hearings after passing the House.
• Bill: House Bill 582
Sponsor: Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale
What it would do: Idaho would manage for multiple uses and with sustained yield in mind any public lands it obtains from the federal government in the future. The bill’s supporters said it would establish a framework for how lands would be managed and assure Idahoans that they would still be open for public use.
What happened: It passed the House on a party-line vote but died in the Senate.
• Bill: House Bill 586
What it would do: Withdraw state consent for the federal government to acquire any additional lands in the state and require the Legislature to approve any future federal land buys.
What happened: The House Resources and Environment Committee killed it over concerns it would unduly restrict private property rights.
• Bill: House Joint Memorial 14
What it would do: Call on Congress to pass a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, to create a pilot program turning some federally owned lands over to state management.
What happened: It passed the Idaho House on a party-line vote but died in the Senate.
• Bill: House Concurrent Resolution 53
Sponsor: Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise
What it would do: Encourage the Idaho Department of Lands not to agree to any leases that would bar other hunters, fishers and trappers from state endowment lands in favor of an exclusive lessee. A private high-end hunting club had looked into getting an exclusive lease on some endowment lands in Jefferson County, and Erpelding wanted to forestall that possibility.
What happened: It passed the House unanimously but died in the Senate.
• Bill: H.R. 3650, “State National Forest Management Act of 2015”
Sponsor: U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska
What it would do: Authorize states to acquire up to 2 million acres of certain National Forest system lands within their borders, to manage them for logging primarily. States could decide whether to buy the land or trade land of equal value. Wilderness and other protected areas would be excluded.
What happened: It was introduced in September and got a subcommittee hearing in February.
• Bill: H.R. 2316, “Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act”
What it would do: Let states set up “community forest demonstration areas” on Forest Service lands, whereby states could manage up to about 2 percent of Forest Service lands. States would set up committees to oversee management including representatives of local government, timber and grazing and recreational users. Wilderness would be exempt, and the Forest Service would receive a portion of the revenues and use them for firefighting costs.
What happened: Introduced in May 2015, the bill got a subcommittee hearing in February. It needs to come back to the committee so amendments can be considered.
• Bill: H.R. 4579, “Utah Test and Training Range Encroachment Prevention and Temporary Closure Act”
Sponsor: U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah
What it would do: Withdraw about 625,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management land west of Salt Lake City for the Utah Test and Training Range; give more than 5,000 acres of right of way on disputed “RS 2477” roads to Box Elder, Juab and Tooele counties; and swap 84,000 acres of state lands within the range’s boundaries for 99,000 of federal lands.
RS 2477 roads are roads on public lands authorized under an 1866 law passed to encourage settlement of the West. The federal government repealed the law as part of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act in 1976 but said existing valid roads could stay. There have been disputes ever since over certain roads that environmentalists or federal officials want to close but local officials and motorized access advocates want to keep open; Utah, especially, has seen a number of controversies and lawsuits over these old roads.
What happened: Introduced in February, the bill cleared the House Natural Resources Committee by a 19-14 vote in March.