Idahoans for Public Lands, an open Facebook group, hosted their first rally at the Idaho State Capitol Building on Saturday, March 4. The group reported an attendance of 3,000 people.
Public lands are owned by the Federal Government and are overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. Several western states, including Idaho, Arizona and Utah, have discussed or expressed the desire to reclaim possession of these lands from the Federal Government.
Idahoans for Public Land is a coalition of outdoor lovers that want to speak out against attempted state acquisition of Idaho’s public lands.
Arguments against the attempted acquisition revolve mainly around the probability of states selling the land to private persons or companies making the land inaccessible to the general public.
Rob Thornberry, a leader of the group and an Idaho Field Representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, doesn’t believe Idaho would be able to keep ownership of the public lands.
Thornberry said natural disasters, like wildfires, can be expensive and he doesn’t see the state government getting that money without slashing budgets elsewhere.
“I don’t think the state will have any choice but to sell them to the highest bidder,” said Thornberry.
If the state acquired the lands and then turned around and sold them privately, the new owners would have the right to restrict and deny access in whatever manner they want.
Jack Swearhart, vice president of Solutions Services for Sensus, was at the event this Saturday with his 7-year-old son.
“From camping to fishing, hunting, hiking, we love being outdoors, and it’s one of the most prized possessions of our country,” said Swearhart. “At some point, whoever (buys) that land is going to limit or reduce access. Any small limitation is going against everything that it was set up to be.”
Despite the threat of limited access, if the state were to gain ownership of the public lands, Idaho State constitution Article IX dictates they are to be used in a way that maximizes profits for public schools in the state.
Jonathan Oppenheimer is another leader of the Idahoans for Public Land group, and he also disagrees with the attempt to acquire public lands.
“Federally administered public lands are part of what make Idaho great and the fact of the matter is that these lands are owned by all Americans,” said Oppenheimer.
Jennifer Forbey, associate professor in the Biology Department, planned on attending the event for purely personal interest.
“I do not know the cost of maintaining our public lands. But I am not confident that our states will not sell them,” Forbey said.
According to Oppenheimer, plans for after the rally include postcards to legislators and text opt-ins for updates and information on the issues facing the public lands.
“We are joining together for this one time to send the statement that Idahoans are for continued federal management of public lands,” said Thornberry.
Thornberry sees the Facebook page as a way like-minded people can discuss issues facing the lands they love.
“(The) core group is conservation and sporting groups in Idaho that just want to make a statement about how we treasure Idaho land,” said Thornberry.
For more information on the group and the topic find “Idahoans for Public Land” on Facebook.