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Report: Possible Idaho Constitution Violations on Land Sales

The Idaho Department of Lands looked through nearly 40,000 state land sale deals for potential constitutional violations. (Idaho State Parks & Recreation)
The Idaho Department of Lands looked through nearly 40,000 state land sale deals for potential constitutional violations. (Idaho State Parks & Recreation)
December 6, 2018

BOISE, Idaho – A new report from the Idaho Department of Lands says there haven't been widespread violations of constitutional limits on state land sales, but it still flags 166 possible infractions.

Last year, The Wilderness Society and the Idaho Conservation League raised alarms that there may have been 300 violations of state limits on the number of acres it can sell to a single individual or entity, prompting a 21-month review from the IDL.

Brad Brooks, director of public lands for The Wilderness Society, says the 166 possible violations on state lands are alarming, especially as some state politicians push for transfer of federal public lands to the state.

"It's a cautionary tale about what could happen if we were to give public lands that are currently used by all Idahoans for hunting, for fishing, for biking, for ATV riding,” he states. “That access, which we currently enjoy, could potentially be threatened if those lands are given away to the state."

State law limits selling state-owned public schools lands to 320 acres and university lands to 160 acres.

The IDL reviewed nearly 40,000 transactions and says half the flagged deals took place before 1916, and all of them before 1983.

The agency says there may have different legal interpretations for land sale limitations by the state in the past.

Jonathan Oppenheimer, government relations director for the Idaho Conservation League, says the group appreciates the research done by the IDL and notes there are added safeguards in place today for state land sales.

The agency says the report will help improve its systems to prevent future problems.

However, Oppenheimer is concerned there wasn't more evaluation or disclosure of the 166 flagged sales.

"It seems to gloss over what the real findings of the analysis were – that there have been a number of instances where powerful parties in the state's history have acquired lands in violation of the Constitution," he states.

Brooks agrees that the state should be taking a hard look at these potential violations to find out what happened.

"Last time I checked, the Constitution is not a casual set of rules that we should follow,” he points out. “It is the guiding document for our state."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID