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Bedke backs Idaho management of federal lands

Dan Popkey
January 12, 2013
Idaho Statesman

House Speaker Scott Bedke is supporting his predecessor's interest in exploring an Idaho version of the Utah Transfer of Public Lands Act, which seeks to shift management of millions of acres of federal lands to the states.

Former Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, is planning informational hearings in the House Resources Committee, which he now chairs. Whether Denney presses for adoption of a bill is still up in the air, he told me this week.

About 64 percent of Idaho's 53 million acres is in federal control, 31 percent is in private hands and 5 percent is owned by the state, mostly for endowments for schools and other beneficiaries.

The Utah bill's author, GOP Rep. Ken Ivory, spoke to the Idaho Freedom Foundation during the Legislature's organizational session in December. A lawyer and president of the American Lands Council, Ivory says the acts of Congress admitting western states didn't surrender claim to what have largely remained federal lands.

Bedke, R-Oakley, told me he liked Ivory's idea.

"Conceptually, I'm on that," he said last month while we toured his fourth-generation family ranch that grazes 1,300 cow-calf pairs on 130,000 acres of federal allotments in Idaho and Nevada.

"As a sovereign state, we ought to be able to control the management model," Bedke said. "I think if I could get every citizen of the United States in the cab of this pickup and go on the tour that I just did, I think there might be an ah-ha moment collectively: 'Yeah, go ahead and do it, and by the way it'll save us money.'"

Bedke said he would stipulate there would be no sale of 34 million acres of federal land in Idaho, that environmental standards would adhere to current federal law and that access for hunting and other recreation would be preserved.

The state's management of its endowment lands are proof it can work, said Bedke, who served on Gov. Phil Batt's Public Lands Task Force during the 1990s, before he entered the Legislature.

On our tour, Bedke used his decision to run a stop sign at a windswept intersection to illustrate his point. He was driving that pickup with me and photographer Darin Oswald. It was crowded in the cab, so we'd long abandoned our seat belts.

But Oswald and I were both a bit taken aback when Bedke rolled past the stop sign south of Burley, at 45 mph. There was nary a vehicle in sight, so we weren't in any danger, but it struck me as noteworthy that Bedke didn't adapt his driving practices with a reporter and photographer in tow.

When I gulped loudly enough to be heard, Bedke cracked, "I'll stop twice next time."

But later, Bedke returned to his traffic faux pas to help make his case that the state could do an equal or better job managing public lands than the feds - the "absentee landlord."

"See, I ran that stop sign," Bedke said. "And I said that stop signs are there not just to see if you'll hoop-jump every time you come to it - although we should and I get that. Stop signs are good, and they keep people safe. But the goal is not to have people get killed in that intersection. If everybody stops and looks both ways, then that'll happen."

For Bedke, a common-sense Idaho style management of U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management ground is a more efficient and prudent means of looking both ways.

He acknowledged the idea is wildly ambitious, but said, "It's worth[y] of our best effort, isn't it?"

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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