Common ground in support of Idaho’s public lands

A little more than a year ago, over 3,000 Idahoans converged on the steps of the Idaho statehouse to rally in support of public lands.

On that day, hunters, anglers, hikers, bikers, birders and horseback riders – public lands users, from the both sides of the aisle – showed up in solidarity to rally in support of a common cause. It was the largest public lands rally in the nation. Threats to Idaho’s public lands, attendees of the rally said, would not be taken lightly. The sheer volume of public lands users at the event was a testament to that fact.

While the public lands rally was taking place, I found myself in a secluded part of the Sawtooth mountains, enjoying fresh powder on skis. Though I was not at the statehouse, I was grateful of those who were because without their presence, legislators might get the wrong idea about Idahoans’ love of public lands.

Fast forward to the 2018 Idaho Legislative Session. Threats to and support for public lands were both seen during the session. As a legislative fellow with CVI, I got to witness those developments firsthand.

This year, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter began the session by voicing his support of the Good Neighbor Authority in his 12th and final state of the state address. Alongside input from the Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership, funding from the bill allows for Idaho’s forests to be actively managed while at the same time ensuring that they aren’t degraded. Gov. Otter requested eight new positions to be created within the Department of Lands for an expansion of the program and that request was approved.

Later in the session, the Idaho Legislature passed a resolution which recognizes the important contributions Idahoans have made in protecting rivers and streams on the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Also this session, legislators introduced bills that attempted to assert state authority over federal public lands. Only one bill, a joint memorial authored by Rep. Burtenshaw’s, which urged Congress to have future federal lands designations approved by the Idaho Legislature, passed both chambers. Rep. Shephard’s bill that which sought to nullify federal laws was defeated by the House. Rep. Giddings introduced a bill that uses an obscure 1866 law to assert right-of-way on federal lands, but that bill stayed in the House State Affairs Committee.

Despite attempts to take away access to public lands, Idahoans have consistently responded by supporting compromise and seeking collaborative management strategies that keep access to those lands in tact. The Boulder White Clouds Wilderness designation, the Owyhee Initiative, and the governor’s support of the GNA are recent examples of those kinds of public lands decisions.

A Colorado College survey released this year found that over 90 percent of Idahoan respondents visited public lands within the last year. That same survey showed that 76 percent said they were seriously concerned about a loss of habitat for fish and wildlife.

While there was not a public lands rally this year, I’ve learned as a legislative fellow that CVI will continue to keep a watchful eye on any threats to Idahoans’ access to public lands. I’ve also learned that in keeping access to public lands, there is common ground that the majority of Idahoans can agree on, regardless of their political affiliation. Working through the legislative process on these important issues isn’t as glamorous as making huge turns in deep powder. But in this state, the former protects the latter, and that’s something I will never forget.