Ed’s Notes

hunter and dog
Sagebrush Rebellion Redux?

Hunters, anglers and all others who value Idaho’s backcountry need to heed new murmurs of mischief about our public lands. Bad ideas seem to have a life of their own, surviving the hammer blows of history.

Early in this year’s legislative session we heard some rumbling in the Idaho statehouse that sounded like a Sagebrush Rebellion Redux but the immediate causes of inflammation were not evident, as they were back in the Reagan era. So the reasons that our state legislature was hearing from a representative of the Utah legislature—that citadel of enlightened lawmaking—about new plans to transfer federal lands to state ownership seemed unclear.

What finally emerged took the form of a resolution that contains a long list of itches and complaints, many of which we have heard before but a few that are novel. The convoluted text explains the subject but provides no clarity of the why now? question. Rather than risk mischaracterizing anyone’s handiwork or bearing the responsibility for boring any dear reader to death right here, I suggest reading this thing—House Concurrent Resolution No. 21—for yourself on the official Idaho web page.

The House did take action on the resolution by setting up a study committee, which was called upon to hold public meetings before the next session. These meetings will be your best immediate opportunity to let our state leaders understand just how much you like the idea of losing access to your wide open Idaho spaces forever.

When promoters tell you—and they will—this will not be the result if federal lands are carved off, ask for a definition of “disposal.”

Idaho and Utah are not the only places public lands are under pressure. Nevadans have been hearing similar talk. Not one to indulge in conspiracy thinking, it is nevertheless obvious to me that a national movement is afoot.

The U. S. House version of the federal budget contains language that must be taken seriously. The language is, probably purposely, unclear but the gist of it is that the country has all this public land that is not doing much and that we could just turn it into deficit reduction by selling it off to the highest bidder.

A point not often made about the expense of keeping our public lands traditions alive is that the operating costs of all federal lands agencies added together do not make a decent rounding error in the national budget. The two biggest federal land management agencies were set up to largely fund themselves.

When politicians flag the bloody shirt of federal deficit in our faces while decrying the extent of public land holdings, we are obviously not hearing the whole message which is more about ideology than finance. Congress tackled the difficult question of lands value in a 2010 report and came up with $408 billion. That is a nice chunk of change and would be a welcome addition to anyone’s retirement plan but would not write off five months of last year’s federal deficit.

Anyone inclined to read this far, I will assume for the sake of brevity, understands just how bad this idea is. Our readership probably does not include those who do not know or care about public lands and surely not the billionaires who look longingly to the choice bits of world they have failed so far to control.

It is hard for anyone who simply wants to live a western life and leave others alone but issue needs your participation. Our legislature showed the wisdom to take the matter to the Idaho public through an interim committee process. We should do the courtesy of showing up at hearings in our local areas.

Hunting Editor Ed Mitchell grew up in a ranching and farming family in southern Idaho, graduated from the College of Idaho and returned to the state following a European tour of Army duty during the Cold War era. He covered state and local politics, courts, agriculture and the outdoors as a newspaperman before beginning an entrepreneurial career with his own hunting and fishing periodical and books. He is an original partner in establishing the Idaho Fish ‘n’ Hunt website in the early days of the World Wide Web. He was associated with conservation entities for most of his adult life before retiring to the hills and forests of southwest Idaho.