BOISE — Legislation urging Congress to remove hundreds of thousands of acres from wilderness study area designation in Idaho advanced to the full House on Tuesday despite concerns it could also end up encouraging Congress to designate more wilderness.
The House Resources and Conservation Committee voted 10-7 to approve the House joint memorial put forward by Republican Rep. Priscilla Giddings.
Wilderness study areas typically carry the same restrictions as wilderness areas. Idaho has about 540,000 acres of wilderness study areas tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Federal officials have listed some of those study areas as not being suitable for wilderness designation. Only Congress can lift the designation.
Giddings said Congress should remove those as study areas to open the land up to industry and other uses. Her memorial legislation, if it clears the House and Senate, would be sent to Gov. Brad Little and top federal elected and appointed officials asking Congress to act.
“The purpose of this memorial is to communicate to Congress that we as a Legislature support the passage of legislation that will release these areas and to place them back into general federal lands,” Giddings told the committee.
Democratic Rep. Rob Mason said the legislation went against collaborative efforts that Idahoans have used in the past and are most effective in getting federal action. He also suggested that if the memorial was going to look at land not suitable for wilderness and ask it be removed, it should also look at land suitable to be designated wilderness to follow that path.
That led some lawmakers on the committee to worry that if Congress agrees to remove non-suitable areas from wilderness consideration, Congress might be inclined to designate remaining areas that are suitable as wilderness.
“I have my concerns that if we’re willing to say yes to this that someone won’t come back and say why won’t you say yes to the other,” said Republican Rep. Britt Raybould.
Republican Rep. Fred Wood agreed that could be a result for land administered by the Bureau of Land Management.
“What’s to prevent Congress from saying, ‘Oh, so you guys want out of this. That’s not a problem, we’ll do that. And since BLM is right on this one it’s probably right on that one, so here you go, we’ll release these and all of these are wilderness,’ “ he said.
Republican Rep. Dorothy Moon noted the federal government had the list of wilderness study areas for decades and should look at removing non-suitable areas from wilderness consideration.
“Considering that this list is 27 years old, I think they’ve had enough time,” she said. “It doesn’t have the characteristics of wilderness. Not trampled by man and all these other great definitions that they use.”
Russ Hendricks of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation spoke in favor of the legislation, saying land-use restrictions caused difficulty for members of his group who graze cattle.