The disconnect in public land policy in Idaho was on display last week.
The Idaho Legislature held a well-attended joint Senate and House resource meeting to hear Utah lawmaker Ken Ivory make the case for western states to demand the federal government turnover the vast federal public land base. He held out the potential for the states to gain access to the mineral wealth beneath them and to dramatically increase the harvest of timber and other above-ground resources.
Meanwhile across town a band of foresters, timber company executives, conservationists and local officials met to talk about the expanding collaborative movement that has slowly started to increase the timber harvest on national forests. The Clearwater Collaborative alone has increased the harvest on the Clearwater National Forest to 80 million board feet with strong support from environmental groups like the Wilderness Society and the Idaho Conservation League.
At the Forest Partner’s Road to Restoration conference the refugees from the early 1990s forest wars and a new generation shared lessons learned from collaborative efforts popping up all across the state. They were talking about how to integrate road management in forest restoration and how new Forest Service rules can help them.
These efforts are putting people back to work in forest communities and building trust among local officials and conservation groups who already have developed deep ties with the forest industry.
The only thing that was missing was the Idaho Legislature. It has committed itself to consider legislation that follows Utah’s example.
Ivory failed to explain why western states have not demanded the federal land be turned over before now. He did not read Section 12 of Idaho’s Admission Act:
“The State of Idaho shall not be entitled to any further or other grants of land for any purpose than as expressly provided in this act.”
Even though the Idaho Legislature was missing from the collaborative groups’ meetings, Northern Regional Forester Faye Krueger did meet with Gov. Butch Otter to report on the progress of the federal, state and local officials collaborative efforts.
Otter can point proudly to the 340 million board feet of timber that came off of state lands in 2012, one third of the state’s 1 billion board feet of timber harvested as the national housing economy remained depressed. The federal harvest was only 13 percent but it was up 30 percent from 2010.
The success of the collaboratives, in national forests throughout the state is growing the timber sales at a time when the economy can sustain it. And programs widely supported by environmentalists, such as cellulosic biofuel production from wood waste could provide a market for even more.
For environmentalists, some of their comfort comes from the roadless protections that came from another the collaborative Idaho Roadless Plan. Idaho lawmakers applauded it when Otter announced its successful court defense in his State of the .State address.
People on both sides of the debate need to look at the two approaches to federal land management to determine where they think they can best spend their time. I think most conservation groups, sporting groups, and strong majority of Idahoans will decide to spend a lot of time fighting the Utah approach.
Idaho's Republican congressional delegation, led by Sen. Mike Crapo, has put its time and energy behind the collaborative movement.
The question is how much time will lawmakers devote to the Utah approach or to the collaborative programs that are creating jobs and increasing the state timber harvest right now.