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Task Force studied state management of federal land

by Dale Fisk

The Adams County Record of Council, Idaho

The idea of state management of federal land is not new. In 1998, the "Federal Lands Task Force Working Group," comprised of Idaho citizen leaders representing a range of interests, held public meetings across the state and studied the issue. By the end of the year they issued an initial report. In December of 2000 the task force issued its final 181-page report to the Idaho State Board of Land Commissioners called, "Breaking the Gridlock - Federal Land Pilot Projects in Idaho." One of the people listed as an "Ex-Officio" member of the task force was Senator Judi Danielson from Council. The entire text of the report is available online, or you can buy a copy on Amazon.com for $25.

The groups specifically excluded exploring the possibility of the state taking ownership of federal land. Nevertheless, their findings have a direct bearing on today's debate.

In outlining the problem of Forest management, the report said, "Conflicts between preservation and active management interests are more than a century old, but with laws enacted since the mid-1960s and changes in demographics, these value conflicts have become more intense. The lack of consensus affects agency decisions through what political scientists call "gridlock."

The report quoted former Chief of the Forest Service Jack Ward Thomas, who described the existing federal land management situation:

"The management of these lands is approaching 'gridlock' for a number of reasons. The primary cause is the crazy quilt of laws passed by the different Congresses over a century with no discern-able consideration for the interactions of those laws. The total of the applicable law contains mixed mandates, and produces mixed and confusing results. This is compounded by myriad court decisions that sometimes confuse more than clarify. It's time to deal with this problem in a comprehensive fashion."

The report said the results of gridlock "include catastrophic wildfires, destructive outbreaks of forest insects and diseases, and the continued spread of noxious weeds. The requirements of federal law need to be reconciled with our current understanding of how we affect our environment and with scientific methods of resource stewardship. This needs to be done comprehensively rather than piecemeal."

The economic result, as stated in the report: "By 1998, national forest timber harvests across the country were about one-third what they were in 1990. Idaho follows that trend, with an 80% reduction in timber harvests on Idaho national forests since 1990. During the 1990s, timber harvests were less than one third what they were in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s."

Part of the gridlock: "Conducting NEPA environmental analyses and preparing environmental documents consumes about 18 percent of the funds available to manage the national forests and approximately 30 percent of the agency's field resources."

Three management models

The group came up with three models for state management of federal lands:

1-Collaborative Model. "Under the concept of collaborative management, those who disagree on management objectives work together to overcome their differences." This model has been tried since 1993 on some Forests, and is evident today in the efforts of such collaborative groups as the Payette Forest Coalition.

2-Cooperative Model. "Under the cooperative model, the state and the federal governments agree to manage a block of federal land under some type of shared powers agreement."

3-Trust Model. "A trust clarifies in absolute terms who the trust lands are managed for, the objective for managing those lands, and therefore, the mission of the trustees and the managing agency. This clarification of "mission" and "objectives" is in stark contrast to federally administered multiple-use lands where the mission and objectives for management have been confused after a century of statutory and regulatory change and case law. The trust model is also widely recognized by the environmental community. The Nature

Conservancy is the largest and best known, but the number of local land trusts is growing."

The biggest portion of the report gave a detailed analysis of 5 proposed project areas in Idaho in which these models could be put in effect. At least one bill was introduced in Idaho to put the task force's recommendations into effect in 2003, but it's not clear whether any legislation was successfully passed.

In 2013, Representative Raul Labrador pushed a bill, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, through the House. The bill would transfer the management of about 200,000 acres of federal land in Idaho to the state as a trust. The bill was read twice in the Senate last fall and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, but it doesn't seem to have gone any farther as yet.



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