Public lands committee will meet in August

The legislative committee assigned to study the transfer of federal lands will get down to work next month.

The committee has set its first meeting for Aug. 9 at the Statehouse.

At issue is the management of public lands — and the question of whether state lands management would yield more money for Idaho’s public school endowment.

The 2013 Legislature authorized a study of a public lands transfer. That’s why a legislative “interim committee” has been assembled to look at the issue and make recommendations in 2014.

But the 2013 Legislature also passed a resolution essentially going on record in support of just such a transfer. According to that resolution, the preponderance of federal lands in Idaho has “substantially damaged” the state’s ability to fund public education. The resolution also spells out the financial parameters for the sale of federal lands: 95 percent of proceeds would go to federal debt relief, and 5 percent would go to the state’s public school endowment.

Idaho’s public lands push is modeled after similar legislation approved by the Utah Legislature, which is demanding the transfer of some 20 million acres of federal land by December 2014.

While most legislative Republicans want Idaho to follow Utah’s lead, environmentalists have criticized the idea.

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If Idaho demands to manage federal lands, the move “could lead to a wholesale selloff of Idaho’s most special places,” Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League wrote in a blog this week.

Meanwhile, Idaho is among at least seven Western states that have passed or are considering similar demands, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

The public lands interim committee is one of two panels that will spend the legislative off-season looking at issues affecting public education. Another committee has been given the broad assignment of studying K-12 policy; that committee won’t meet before late August.

More reading: Here’s more background on the public lands committee.

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