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Wildfire Along U.S. 26

Bureau of Land Management firefighters work on putting out a brush fire along U.S. Highway 26 at mile marker 188 Saturday, July 5, 2014, near Dietrich.

Idaho can’t keep up with Utah. So stop trying.

The pointless crusade to illegally seize federal lands has ground on for years. It’s an expensive farce, one that will go nowhere and serves only to keep hardliners well fed. Too much has already been spent on second legal opinions, useless meetings and general griping.

But Idaho isn’t alone. It’s a boondoggle throughout the West.

Utah is organizing a compact of Western states, in the hope of pooling efforts, even though the ultimate goal is unattainable. That state has sunk millions into the doomed campaign, even after its own report estimated annual management would cost a budget busting half-billion.

The Idaho House last week passed the lands compact. The Senate Resource and Environment Committee is slated to continue debate today. In both houses, the bill has garnered substantial opposition from sensible Republicans. Maxine Bell, co-chairwoman of the Joint Finance-Appropriation Committee, dissented in the lower house. And Dean Cameron, JFAC’s Senate chairman, grilled bill proponents on Monday.

No one knows the state budget better than Bell and Cameron. Their collective dissent should be more than enough. This bill should die in committee.

Idaho can’t afford to fund its own illegal land-takeover crusade, let alone that of seven other states. Utah, Arizona and Colorado are all substantially larger, more moneyed governments. Idaho is in no position to become equal partners with any of them. Trading a lack of sovereignty for more of the same is not a solution.

Put simply, little Ida can’t hang. Nor should it.

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A wide swath of stakeholders — from outdoor enthusiasts to green groups — have skewered the entire takeover movement. No one is being fooled. If, by some miracle, Idaho suddenly took title to 64 percent of the property within its boundaries, huge tracts would be sold to the highest bidder. Hunting grounds would be clear cut. Grazing land would be replaced by mines. Access would be forever lost for a short-term, one-time payout. The first large wildfire would send Idaho’s budget into a death spiral. There are more pressing issues worthy of taxpayer money.

There’s some merit to C.L. “Butch” Otter’s idea to test the state’s ability to manage a few tracts, while the federal government maintains title. And there’s much more buy-in from the various groups. But that won’t be accomplished through multi-state lawsuits and rancorous town hall meetings. Only congressional support can win that battle.

Idaho, or any other Western state, hasn’t a legal leg to stand on. That was dealt with when the state Constitution was ratified. Those are the facts, no matter how badly the takeover jingoists want to ignore it. State Attorney General Lawrence Wasden tried to tell them. They blew him off and contracted an outside law firm, which came to the same conclusion. What a waste.

And now, the Legislature is mulling yet another costly, ultimately useless initiative that would burn more cash on a pipe dream. Enough is enough.


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