BOISE • Legislation could be coming soon to extend the existence of the Legislature’s Federal Lands Interim Committee.
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said Friday morning that he expects to see a law this session to allow the committee to continue to study issues raised by its report.
The committee was created in 2013 to examine federal lands management in Idaho with an eye toward increasing the state’s role.
It accepted its final report a week ago, recommending some approaches to accomplish this.
The report recommends not suing the federal government to get title to the lands, saying Idaho should wait to see what’s done in Utah, which has moved further down this road.
That final report asked the committee to be extended until the end of the 2016 session, to work out legal changes needed to implement its recommendations, and to appropriate up to $500,000 to do more analysis of the economic impact of a transfer of land into state hands.
Beyond that, the report recommends the Legislature create a couple of staff positions, possibly within the Department of Lands, and a permanent commission to implement its recommendations with $250,000 funding.
House Republican leaders held a news conference Friday morning, focusing largely on the report’s recommendations, making their case for increased state management and against some points raised by critics of the idea that the state should manage some federal lands.
Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said public testimony at the committee’s hearings last year showed most people are opposed to selling public lands, want to see continued public access and think the lands need to be managed better. Many critics of a lands transfer have said they worry about public access being limited and about lands possibly being sold.
Bedke said he opposes selling public lands and wants to preserve access and continue the public’s involvement in the discussions.
He cited the number of wildfires on federal land as evidence that current management strategies aren’t working.
“Mother Nature grows these trees, and they’re going to be either harvested or burnt at some point,” he said.
Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, who was on the committee, said Idaho’s timber resources are being poorly managed by the federal government, and the state should invest in collaborative management models to improve upon this.
“There are billions and billions of board feet of lumber dying on our national lands in the state of Idaho,” he said.
Opponents also have criticized the committee for hiring an outside law firm, Holland and Hart, to advise it.
Winder defended the cost Friday, saying that, considering the potential for improving land management, the money was worth it.