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Ideas Behind Oregon Standoff Have Long History in Idaho

Opposition to federal management of public lands is a longstanding idea in Idaho and underpins support among some in the Gem State for the protesters currently occupying a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon. (ostephy/morguefile)
Opposition to federal management of public lands is a longstanding idea in Idaho and underpins support among some in the Gem State for the protesters currently occupying a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon. (ostephy/morguefile)
January 6, 2016

BOISE, Idaho - Some of the ideas behind the standoff in Oregon this week, in which anti-government protesters have seized buildings on a federal wildlife refuge, have been floating around for years in Idaho.

More than 60 percent of the Gem State is comprised of federally owned land. A few years ago a report from the Idaho Department of Lands - requested by lawmakers - examined the transfer of more than 16 million acres to state control - and the State Senate passed a bill on the subject in 2013.

Professor Dennis Becker, director of the University of Idaho's Policy Analysis Group, co-authored a 2014 study that looked at the economics of transferring federal lands to state control and allowing more logging.

"Folks are using an economic rationale to justify land transfer, but the facts don't support that conclusion under all but the most optimistic scenarios," he said. "The wild card in all of this is wildfire suppression costs."

Becker said last year's massive wildfires cost far more than average, and climate change means huge fires may become more common.

Chris McIntire, a spokesman for an antigovernment activist group called the Idaho Three Percent, said frustration with the BLM, the Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency is growing.

"It's becoming a huge problem for ranchers and miners and loggers," he said, "because they are unable to navigate all the loopholes and the statutes and the regulations and the fines and the licensing fees in order to make a living."

Ron Rhodes, a spokesman for the nonpartisan voting rights group Transform Idaho, said the federal government has some distance from local economic concerns and is better equipped to make decisions that take the environment and the public interest into account.

"This is kind of an age-old conflict between the people who would like less government and the notion that somehow the federal government is some medieval Darth Vader empire, rather than representing the majority of people," he said.

The University of Idaho study is online at posting.boiseweekly.com. The text of the Federal Lands Policy Management Act is at blm.gov/flpma.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - ID