During our 30 days of Public Lands campaign last September, we detailed how with pu
blic lands TRANSFER = SALE. Although land transfer advocates argue better management, more access and local control, the simple fact is state land agencies have a long history of selling off our public land. This is especially true in Idaho, where the state has sold off over a third of the endowment trust lands granted to it by the federal government at statehood.
News coming out of Idaho backs this up. Idaho Department of Lands holds state endowment lands in trust for the citizens of Idaho and are required by the state constitution to seek maximum financial gain from these lands, a directive that can sometimes go against conservation efforts. The writers of Idaho’s Constitution had a bit of foresight, however. At the time, folks were worried that land barons or large corporations would swoop in and buy up large swaths of state lands for their own monetary gain. Therefore, they not only limited the sale of 100 parcels (64,000 acres) in any given year, but they capped the amount any individual or corporation could buy at 320 acres for “public school” lands and 160 acres for “university lands”. Court cases through the years have interpreted this individual restriction to be a lifetime limit.
An investigation done by The Wilderness Society and Idaho Conservation League and reported on by the Lewiston Tribune points to numerous instances where this limitation was neglected. Some key points from the investigation are:
● 293 separate individuals, businesses and corporations may have violated the Constitution by exceeding the 320-acre limit imposed by the Constitution on State owned “public school” lands, which are managed to benefit public schools.
● 7 separate individuals, businesses and corporations may have violated the Constitution by exceeding the 160-acre cap imposed by the State Constitution on State owned “university land,” which is managed to help fund the University of Idaho.
● A total of 919,914 acres of state land that were managed to benefit public schools and universities have been sold since statehood, and of that acreage 203,952 acres (roughly 22%) appear to have been sold in violation of the limits imposed by the Idaho Constitution.
The Wilderness Society and Idaho Conservation League make sure to point out that no current Land Board Members or the Idaho Department of Lands are being accused of wrongdoing.
But, when land grabbers stand up on their soapbox and talk in platitudes about how the “state does it better” and “local control is best”, fact is the state has a long history of selling lands. And this history continues today — currently, legislation introduced in the Idaho State Senate (SB 1065) directs state agencies to “sell into private ownership any parcels that are not necessary to their public purpose.” So, TRANSFER = SALE, sometimes even if it goes against the Idaho Constitution.