Advocate: Farmers support state control of public lands
Farmers are some of the biggest supporters of a movement to compel the federal government to return control of public lands to western states, according to the group leading the effort.
“Farmers and ranchers are some of the best allies we have when we explain very clearly to them what the purposes of the (movement) are,” said American Lands Council President Ken Ivory.
Ivory is a representative in the Utah House of Representatives, which passed a bill last session that demands public lands controlled by the federal government be transferred to state ownership.
The ALC, which is leading the effort, was formed by several counties, municipalities, organizations, businesses and individuals after passage of the Utah Transfer of Public Lands Act.
According to the ACL, the federal government promised all new states that it would “extinguish title” to all public lands in a timely fashion. It has honored that promise for all states east of Colorado.
Those states that were once considered the “western” states, had the same complaints –not being able to generate taxes from federally controlled lands, adequately fund education or become economically self-reliant — as today’s western states have, Ivory said.
They also faced a federal government reluctant to return the lands to state ownership but they succeeded because they banded together and demanded it, he adds.
While the federal government controls more than 50 percent of all lands in today’s western states, Ivory said, it only controls 4 percent of the lands in the former western states.
The Utah bill “compels the federal government to keep the same promise that they have already kept with (these other states),” Ivory said. “Why is it on one side of this arbitrary line they honor their promise while on the other side, they don’t? Because we tolerate it.”
Following a presentation on the idea, Idaho Farm Bureau Federation members during their recent annual meeting amended an existing policy to support legislation similar to the Utah bill, which sets a Dec. 31, 2014, deadline for the federal government to hand title of the lands over to the state.
“I really believe a great percentage of farmers and ranchers would support that,” said Del Rust, president of Benewah County Farm Bureau, which introduced the resolution. “They understand how using our resources can improve local economies.”
Similar bills have already been drafted in several western states, and the solution to achieving the legislation’s goal is to gain support, county by county and state by state, said IFBF member and Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik, who estimates he has driven 2,000 miles in the last three and a half weeks speaking to people about the effort.
“We just have to get the message out and get them to engage,” he said.
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