TWIN FALLS • The legislative committee that is looking at management of federal lands in Idaho held its next-to-last public hearing before a crowd in Twin Falls on Friday that mostly favored leaving them in federal hands.
Some of the people who testified before the Federal Lands Interim Committee said the state doesn’t have the money to manage the lands properly. Others worried that state control could lead to lands being sold and public access being restricted.
Betty Slifer, one of the people who testified, said if there are problems with the way the federal government is managing public lands, then the solution is to manage it better, not a change in ownership.
“We would lose if these lands were sold to the highest bidder,” she said. “Who would gain?”
Politicians and wealthy entrepreneurs, she said.
Catherine Talkington, who is running for the state Legislature as a Democrat against committee member Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said most of the people she has talked to want the lands to stay in federal hands.
“Are the people’s interests being represented or are the interests of other entities (driving) this decision?” she said.
A few people did speak in support of state control and increased commercial use of the resources. Gus Brackett, a school trustee in the Three Creek Joint Elementary District, said small districts like his with a lot of public land are having trouble passing levies because their tax bases are too small.
“I’m convinced Idaho can manage these lands for profit,” he said.
Brackett said government management is inefficient because the people in charge are “insulated from failure.”
“Privatization has been shown to be the ultimate solution,” he said.
The committee of 10 lawmakers was formed after legislation passed in 2013, demanding that the federal government transfer title to the state of more than 34 million acres of public lands.
Whether and how states should have more say in the management of federal lands within their borders is a big issue in Idaho and in a number of other western states, where the federal government still owns vast amounts of land that it has held since they were territories. Some politicians say the state should try to get title to these lands; others say this would be legally and politically too difficult, but do favor an increased state role in managing the lands.
The committee met in Hailey Friday evening, its last public hearing; they had already held five other public hearings, in northern and eastern Idaho. Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, one of the committee’s co-chairs, said the legislators would meet and draft a report to give to the Legislature when the session starts in January. He said they would consider the public comment.
“The concerns you all voiced are important,” he said.