Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Idaho House panel agrees to study public land transfer

State lawmakers officially began their efforts Tuesday to wrest control from the federal government millions of acres of public forest, backcountry and rangelands across the state. The House State Affairs Committee voted along party lines in support of a resolution that demands the federal government transfer ownership of about 35 million acres now overseen by the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies. Republican proponents insist the state can do a better job as stewards of the land, reducing the size and damage caused by summer wildfires and earn significantly more revenue from those lands with oversight of industries looking to cut timber, mine or graze Idaho's vast inventory of public acreage. Rep. Lawerence Denney, the plan's chief sponsor, said the time has come for Idaho to assume a bigger role as landlord, even if it brings increased costs and administrative responsibility. The committee also signed off on a separate resolution that calls for appointing a panel of lawmakers to spend the summer months studying all aspects, costs and potential benefits and pitfalls of a future handover of federal lands. Both measures are headed to the House for more debate. Idaho's model for ownership change mirrors legislation adopted in Utah a year ago that demanded that the federal government surrender control over 20 million acres of federal land in that state by 2014. Should the government ignore the deadline, Utah lawmakers spearheading the issue say they are poised to make their case in court that federal officials long ago reneged on a constitutional pledge to relinquish control of federal landholdings in each state...more

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