“It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.” -Ansel Adams, nature photographer 1902-1984
I try to not get too personal or political on any of my blog posts. This trend started when we moved to this small, conservative farming and ranching town where most everyone knows most everything about most everyone. I’m pretty open minded but tend toward staying neutral on most subjects in order to keep peace and to not ruffle any feathers. But at some point in your life you have to be selfish and fight for something you believe in.
That fight is public lands and today is the day to speak my mind.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a local town hall meeting where three elected Idaho State Representatives from District 9 were invited. Our district encompasses Adams, Canyon, Payette, and Washington counties. The three guests, Judy Boyle, Ryan Kerby, and Abby Lee, were in attendance to reintroduce and get supporters for HB No.582. The bill proposes to change the Idaho statute that would eventually pave the way for transfer of federal lands to the State of Idaho. A chapter of the bill, Chapter 15 known as the “Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act,” would allow land owned by the state be used for the most sustained yield in relation to timber production and harvest, livestock range, mineral exploration, and development.
I have a problem with the multiple use part wording on the bill. According to Sportsman Access, outdoor recreation is more restricted on state lands than on America’s public lands. On Idaho Endowment Lands, land managers may restrict recreation when it interferes with the agency’s mandate to generate income. Roughly 30 percent of state endowment lands are closed to hunting and shooting, and camping is restricted to a period no longer than 10 days without written permission.
If federal public lands were handed over to Idaho, it wouldn’t take much to sell it off. Idaho state lands are currently constitutionally mandated to be managed for maximum profit. These lands are sold if they don’t generate substantial revenue through resource development. So far, 41 percent of the original 4.2 million acres of state lands obtained at statehood in 1890 have already been sold to private interests, some of it unlawfully.
Idaho couldn’t afford to manage the federal lands that Boyle and others want transferred to state control. State and local economies would take a serious hit by increased taxes for the enormous cost of management if these lands were state-owned. Idahoans would pay for wildfire suppression costs on an additional 32.4 million acres. Last year it cost $169 million for fighting fires in Idaho alone.
Now back to the meeting. Judy Boyle, who just happens to live on a small ranch about seven miles from my home, is one of the main players pushing for the public lands transfer movement here in Idaho. She started her presentation by handing out copies of HB 582 and propping up an American Lands Council map onto the table next to her purse and telling us that she knows what’s best for Idaho because she’s lived in Idaho her whole life. The mission of the Utah-based American Lands Council is to obtain funding to secure local control of western public lands to ensure fewer regulations for logging and mining.
During last year’s Malheur Wildlife Refuge illegal, armed occupation, and as a member of The Coalition of Western States or COWS, Judy Boyle drove to Burns, Oregon in support of the remaining occupiers and the Bundy’s effort to force the Federal government to give the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to loggers, miners, and ranchers. According to an analysis by the Center for Western Priorities, Judy Boyle was one of at least 22 state legislators with direct connections to anti-government ideologies who were the primary sponsors on 29 pieces of land seizure legislation. Click here to read the study from 2016.
Follow the money trail. I looked up campaign finance contributions to Judy Boyle, Ryan Kerby, and Abby Lee and found several contributions from mining and logging companies plus political action committees that represent them. This is public knowledge; you can look up all their campaign contributions here on this Idaho.gov website. Sure it’s not a lot of money, but because of Idaho laws, campaign contributions are limited to $1000.
One of the companies that gave campaign funds to Boyle and Kerby was Altria, a parent company for tobacco company Phillip Morris, based in Richmond, Virginia. Altria/Phillip Morris gave ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) $1,426,700 between 1995 and 2010. ALEC is a conservative corporate front group of corporate lobbyists and state legislators who are trying to change our rights to benefit corporations’ financial gain at the expense of the public. ALEC is funded by fossil-fuel interests such as the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil.
Later in the meeting when a member of the audience questioned Judy Boyle and her ties to the Koch brothers she blurted, “I don’t know the Koch Brothers, and they have nothing to do with this!” The Koch brothers help fund the American Lands Council and the American Legislative Exchange Council to which she paid membership dues in 2012. In the meeting , she also said a couple of times, “The lands won’t be sold.” Knowing her ties with ALC and ALEC and their agenda, how can she be trusted?
Another audience member raised his hand and asked Boyle if she knew the cost to graze cattle on state lands. She said she didn’t know. Anyone that’s a rancher in Idaho, including Boyle, should know that number off the top of their head. The cost of grazing on state lands would cost ranchers more money per animal. Currently for 2017, the BLM and Forest Service charge $1.87 per animal month (AUM) while the State of Idaho charges $9.01 per animal month.
The push to transfer the lands to the states is not to benefit the people of Idaho. A lot of folks around here rely on public lands for their jobs. The local businesses in town that depend on the tourists that stop in their cafes, gas stations, grocery stores, or motels on their way to recreate on public lands would suffer. The public land grab isn’t about helping the ranchers or making more logging and mining jobs to boost the local economy. The outdoor recreation economy creates $2.2 billion in consumer spending in Idaho per year, 154 million in state tax revenue as well as 37,000 direct jobs. What about the loss of those jobs if the lands were eventually sold off?
So why this seemingly constant push by some politicians to grab all this federal land? Two reasons. First, it’s to reduce “costly” regulations that protect the wildlife and the environment. And second, it’s so out-of-state resource extraction corporations can come to our state and do whatever they want to make millions of dollars off the lands that belong to all of us.
I’m happy to report that the majority of people that attended the town hall meeting seemed be to in favor of public lands. My father, grand-father, and great-grandfather were all born in Idaho and I’ve lived here most of my life. Like Judy Boyle, I think that I should also be able to have an opinion and have a say in what happens to my public lands.