A Step Too Far: Idaho Legislature Balks At Restricting Federal Land Acquisition

Mar 17, 2016

This winter, the Idaho Legislature has considered a range of what are sometimes called "message bills," introduced to convey dissatisfaction with how federal agencies are managing public lands. But the latest proposal from one conservative lawmaker went too far even for the Republican majority in the statehouse. 

Federal agencies control about 62 percent of the land base of Idaho, one of the highest percentages in the country.

State Representative Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, wanted to make a point to the feds: No more public land for you without the Idaho Legislature's consent. But fellow lawmakers balked at House Bill 586.

Boise attorney Dennis Radocha spoke for the majority sentiment when he testified the measure would infringe on the rights of property owners to sell or donate their land to the federal government.

"It forces private property owners to get the approval of the House, Senate and governor before concluding a business transaction," Radoca said. "I do not believe that such an additional burden is justified."

Speaking in favor of her proposal in committee Thursday, Boyle said one of her aims was "to slow down the rate of the federal government acquiring land in our state."

Boyle twice visited the anti-government protesters who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon earlier this winter.

Some Idaho ranchers came to the capital on Thursday to support Boyle’s bill in hopes it would provide a check on future conversions of private grazing land to federal ownership.

Idaho Farm Bureau lobbyist Russ Hendricks said the measure would prevent the state from becoming "one large federal colony."

But the Idaho House Resources & Conservation Committee voted 10-6 to hold Boyle's bill in committee Thursday, which effectively killed the bill.