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Ranching Standoff

From left, Nevada Assemblyman John Moore, Idaho Rep. Heather Scott and Idaho Rep. Judy Boyle speak to reporters outside the Malheur Wildlife Refuge during the standoff near Burns, Ore., last month.

BOISE • Two controversial bills on federal land management passed a House committee on mostly party-line votes Tuesday.

One bill, which has already passed the Senate, would let counties declare a “catastrophic public nuisance” if county officials fear the way federal lands are being managed is increasing the risk of wildfire or other safety risks, and it lets the counties demand abatement from the federal government. The other states that Idaho would manage federal lands for multiple use if the state gains ownership of them in the future.

The state management bill cleared the House Resources and Conservation Committee on a party-line vote, while Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, joined Reps. Donna Pence, D-Gooding and Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, to oppose the “catastrophic public nuisance” bill.

The state management bill, sponsored by Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, was getting its first full hearing Tuesday and drew the most testimony. As often happens during debates on federal vs. state land ownership, land transfer opponents expressed fears that state ownership could mean some land being sold off or closed to public access. Supporters said they would oppose selling the land and that the states would manage it better than the federal government.

As someone who grew up hunting, fishing and camping on federal lands, Boyle said she would oppose ever selling them. However, the bill does not include language saying the state would never sell off federal lands, should it acquire ownership, even though it was proposed.

“I think that would go a long way to alleviating some of the issues that we’ve heard,” Wood said.

Boyle said she didn’t include it because she believes those should be separate conversations.

“This is not to take land away from the people,” she said. “This has never been my intent in the least.”

“If you shoot as well as you introduce legislation, I’m guessing we’d be chasing your gut-shot elk all over the mountain,” said Kahle Becker, a Boise lawyer and outdoorsman who is on the board of directors of the Idaho Wildlife Federation.

“If you support this legislation, you are not welcome in my elk camp,” Becker concluded.

Larry Lundin of Midvale said that when he was younger, towns like Council and Cambridge had economically viable communities because of logging. Now, they don’t.

“The federal government has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt to me they have no business managing our lands when the state of Idaho can do it much better,” he said. “And if we have a gripe, we can go to Boise and testify. We can unelect people who are not doing their job. How much are you going to (be able to) do that with the federal bureaucrats? None.”

Boyle is sponsoring a second public lands bill, withdrawing past state consent for federal land ownership and outlining a handful of areas such as military bases and Yellowstone National Park that the state recognizes as federally owned. It will get a full hearing Thursday, said committee Chairman Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg.

The committee also unanimously passed a resolution, introduced by Erpelding and co-sponsored by leadership in both parties, that urges the Idaho Department of Lands not to enter into any exclusive lease agreements closing state lands to hunting or fishing by the general public, a reaction to a proposal by a private hunting club to lease some land in eastern Idaho for exclusive use.

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