Three House Republican leaders, Rep. Mike Moyle of Star, Ken Roberts of Donnelly and Scott Bedke of Oakley, all farmers and ranchers, effectively killed a bill that would have provided tax breaks to landowners who protected their land with easements for 30 years to perpetuity.
They led the effort in committee to send the bill to amending order to limit the easements from five to 50 years, too short to be of public value, development opponents say. The move was targeted to break the wide coalition of supporters that stretched from the Idaho Cattle Association and the Idaho Farm Bureau to the Nature Conservancy and the Idaho Conservation League.
For nearly four years these groups have been working together to craft a land conservation bill that would meet all their interests in preserving wildlife habitat and open space from growth and development. The three leaders haven’t hidden their unhappiness that the agriculture groups, including the powerful Food Producers lobby, had teamed up with environmental groups, long viewed by traditional land users like farmers and loggers, as the enemy.
“The Nature Conservancy is on the moderate end of a bunch of quite rabid folks who want to exchange their management for mine and get me off,”Dean Ferguson quoted Bedke in the Lewiston Tribune.
Emma Atchley, an Ashton farmer and rancher said that’s not the issue at all. Families like hers want to ensure the protection for the land and the wildlife they have carried out for generations continues. They see common ground with their environmental partners in the coalition.
“I think a lot of the conservation community realizes that most of the agricultural community are good stewards of the land,” Atchley said.
In a time before growth exploded in Idaho the threat to agricultural open space values was slight. The environmental community’s effort to protect forever important fish and wildlife habitat was limited to a small segment of the agricultural community.
Now however, the two sides have come together address a common threat, growth and development. This growing political coalition crosses party lines not only in Idaho but across the West.
Back in the early 1990s, I wrote extensively about the so-called “wise-use movement,” a coalition of loggers, ranchers, farmers, miners and motorized recreationists who were fighting against environmental efforts to limit logging, ranching, mining and other development on public lands. In my first book, “Saving All the Parts,” I quoted Luther Probst, executive director of the Sonoran Institute, a group dedicated to community planning in Tucson, Ariz.comparing these folks to the ghost dancers who appeared at the end of the Indian wars a hundred years before.
The ghost dancers believed that if they did the ghost dance they would become invincible and drive the white men away. The modern ghost dancers were unable to keep the growing hordes of urban Americans from filling the West any more than they could overcome the growing concerns for wild places, animals and fish.
But the rural survivors are finding, as Emma Atchley said, that environmentalists have a rising recognition of their role in stewardship and the values of cultural diversity. The defeat this week of the easement bill was in a sense was a flexing of the muscles of the remaining ghost dancers. The House leaders were standing in increasingly smaller numbers against a growing tide of development and consensus builders seeking a new path to control it.
“We have worked real hard on this and the issue is not going away,” Atchley said. “There are a lot of people in this state that support this and we’re going to be trying again.”