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COMMENTARY: Public lands belong to all of us

by EVAN KOCH/More Perfect Union
| July 20, 2022 1:00 AM

Idaho’s heritage and culture are built around our shared majestic outdoors. Citizens of the Gem State cherish having unparalleled access to public land for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, boating and other recreational activities. With very few exceptions, Idaho’s national forests and public lands are wide open for everyone to enjoy.

Unfortunately, a handful of well-positioned Idaho politicians with help from some out-of-state financial backers want to take control of public land in order to sell it off to developers. Under the banner of “state control” these special interest groups, including the American Lands Council, are behind an effort to usurp ownership of lands that belong to all of us. Their strategy is to place our public land at the mercy of the Idaho Land Board.

The Idaho Land Board is mandated by state law to manage land for profit, not for public access. Throughout our history, the Idaho Land Board has consistently sold off public land to the highest bidders. A Wilderness Society report on Idaho lands asserts that public access to more than 1.7 million acres of state land has been lost forever after being liquidated to corporations and other private interests — an area approaching the size of the entire Sawtooth National Forest (https://www.wilderness.org/articles/article/report-idaho-has-sold-17-million-acres-land-private-interests). That bad practice continues today.

Public lands have more than just recreational value. Research conducted by the non-profit Outdoor Industry Association determined that in 2020 alone public lands generated $3.2 billion in consumer spending, $2.1 billion in wages and salaries, 29,867 direct Idaho jobs. These jobs and dollars could be lost as our lands are sold off.

Moreover, selling public land does not always generate income for the state. A spokesperson for the nonprofit Friends of the Palouse Ranger District said that most of the ILB property transactions end up costing the taxpayers money and “are not in the public interest.”

When public land is sold it is often developed. If that development is not managed sustainably, wildlife and water sources are damaged or destroyed. Destruction of wildlife and habitat is closely related to global climate change. (https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2019/09/25/the-global-impacts-of-habitat-destruction/)

Some public lands are culturally significant to the Kootenai Tribe and its people. They would also lose access if it is transferred to private ownership.

Public lands belong to all of us. We should never allow out-of-state billionaires to block access and lock us out. Public lands are Idaho’s greatest treasure.

All Idahoans should have access to nature and wild spaces, not just a handful of wealthy individuals and entrenched interests. Public lands belong to all of us.

Idaho’s heritage and culture are built around our shared majestic outdoors. Citizens of the Gem State cherish having unparalleled access to public land for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, boating and other recreational activities. With very few exceptions, Idaho’s national forests and public lands are wide open for everyone to enjoy.

Unfortunately, a handful of well-positioned Idaho politicians with help from some out-of-state financial backers want to take control of public land in order to sell it off to developers. Under the banner of “state control” these special interest groups, including the American Lands Council, are behind an effort to usurp ownership of lands that belong to all of us. Their strategy is to place our public land at the mercy of the Idaho Land Board.

The Idaho Land Board is mandated by state law to manage land for profit, not for public access. Throughout our history, the Idaho Land Board has consistently sold off public land to the highest bidders. A Wilderness Society report on Idaho lands asserts that public access to more than 1.7 million acres of state land has been lost forever after being liquidated to corporations and other private interests — an area approaching the size of the entire Sawtooth National Forest (https://www.wilderness.org/articles/article/report-idaho-has-sold-17-million-acres-land-private-interests). That bad practice continues today.

Public lands have more than just recreational value. Research conducted by the non-profit Outdoor Industry Association determined that in 2020 alone public lands generated $3.2 billion in consumer spending, $2.1 billion in wages and salaries, 29,867 direct Idaho jobs. These jobs and dollars could be lost as our lands are sold off.

Moreover, selling public land does not always generate income for the State. A spokesperson for the nonprofit Friends of the Palouse Ranger District said that most of the ILB property transactions end up costing the taxpayers money and “are not in the public interest.”

When public land is sold it is often developed. If that development is not managed sustainably, wildlife and water sources are damaged or destroyed. Destruction of wildlife and habitat is closely related to global climate change. (https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2019/09/25/the-global-impacts-of-habitat-destruction/)

Some public lands are culturally significant to the Kootenai Tribe and its people. They would also lose access if it is transferred to private ownership.

Public lands belong to all of us. We should never allow out-of-state billionaires to block access and lock us out. Public lands are Idaho’s greatest treasure.

All Idahoans should have access to nature and wild spaces, not just a handful of wealthy individuals and entrenched interests.

• • •

Evan Koch is the chairman of the Kootenai County Democrats.

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