Idaho Decision May Restrict Access to Public Lands

firstforhuntersbirdhunteranddogIdahoans might be seeing their access to public lands decline in the upcoming months. Idaho state officials are debating if they should allow groups to lease public land which could prevent public access.

Over the years, the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) has received applications to lease state endowment land for exclusive private hunting operations. The IDL has always turned away these applications. However, a new group wanting to set up an exclusive pheasant hunting operation in eastern Idaho has applied. State officials are also likely to turn away this application as well, but it has prompted review of how Idaho handles recreation on state lands.

The Idaho Constitution requires the state Land Board, which consists of the state’s five top elected officials, to manage state endowment lands for “maximum long-term financial return,” with the money going to the endowment’s beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state’s public school system. Although several neighboring states make up to $1 million a year from recreation on their endowment lands, either from user fees or leases with other state agencies, including parks and fish and game. Idaho currently doesn’t charge a fee for individuals to use state lands.

Although Idaho grants exclusive permits and leases to outfitters, the public still has access the same land. Idaho has never issued exclusive leases or permits for recreational operations on state endowment lands.

With the responsibility to get the highest return of revenue for the state, the newest application is one the state Land Board is looking closely at. Even though Governor Butch Otter believes private hunting operations are “very problematic,” the state Lands Board needs to maximize the best financial gain they have for the endowments.

Idaho’s Land Board hasn’t taken any action on new policies on recreation, though it is reviewing their options. Current policies include calling for the board to “protect and preserve the present and future public interests for recreational, fishing, hunting or access values in state lands,” and requiring those interests to be protected in any sale or lease. The state’s current asset management plan for endowment lands calls for dispersed recreational uses to be accommodated, provided that they don’t impair financial returns from other uses like logging operations.

Safari Club International understands the complications of public land management will not be fixed overnight, but progress can be made with better collaboration between the government and the states and the stakeholders. However, a major key to progress is having an informed public, a public that is aware of the issues. SCI will closely monitor the debate regarding public lands and how they should be managed.

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