Monday, March 6, 2017

'No trespassing'? No thanks. Idaho rallygoers hope public lands stay in public hands - Full Article

March 4 2017
By Nicole Blanchard

Sean Jones wasn’t planning on bringing his elk bugle call to the public lands rally at the Idaho statehouse on Saturday. But its trumpeting sound rang out across Jefferson Street and the south steps of the capitol building in harmony with the raucous applause and cheers of the more than 2,000 Idahoans gathered in the chilly morning drizzle.

Jones, like so many other outdoor lovers, was at the rally because he’s an avid hunter, rafter and hiker. Like he does on most outdoor adventures, he brought his gear bag, an elk antler strapped to the bungee cord on the back of the pack and the triumphant-sounding elk call conveniently at hand.

“I want to have access,” said Jones, echoing a theme that dominated the rally. “I’ve seen far too many ‘no trespassing’ signs when I’m out hunting.”

Jones said he has emailed and called Idaho legislators to let them know he opposes the potential transfer of public lands to the state or private hands. He wasn’t impressed with their responses.

“Particularly Raul Labrador,” said Jones. (Rep. Labrador has led pushes for pilot programs that would give states control over federal lands.)

How did the lawmakers respond?

“The typical argument that lands are mismanaged,” said Jones. “But we know the forest managers, the BLM, the people making decisions (about Idaho lands) actually live here.”

Some attendees said they felt the current political climate led to the massive turnout, one of the largest in the West on the issue. (Though, speaker Yvette Tuell, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe pointed out, it’s not a new fight.) Some attendees carried signs that alluded to the Trump administration — one warning the government to “keep your (tiny) hands off my public lands,” and others calling out members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet, like newly confirmed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and head of the EPA Scott Pruitt.

Though Zinke, a former Montana congressman, has said he opposes the transfer of federal lands, some at the rally said they take little comfort in the politician’s words.

“I don’t trust anybody in office right now,” said Carolyn Blackhurst, who was at the gathering with her husband, an avid angler.

Closer to home, Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz drew the ire of outdoorsmen when he introduced a bill asking the Interior Secretary to sell or dispose of more than 3.3 million acres of public land, legislation that Boise hunter Kevin Braley called “disturbing.” After public outcry, Chaffetz withdrew the proposal.

“I think politicians don’t fully understand the groundswell of opposition (to transferring public lands),” said Braley, who attended a similar rally at the statehouse several years ago. At that time, Braley said, the gathering was mostly made up of hunters.

Hunters, anglers, hikers, rafters and more are not optimistic about what would happen to their ability to recreate if Idaho had control of lands, either. They say it’s not worth the risk to hope the state keeps their interests in mind.

Many protesters said the state simply doesn’t have the money to maintain Idaho’s land — 62 percent of the state is federally owned. One major wildfire or lawsuit, protesters said, and the most attractive option to Idaho could be to sell off their beloved lands...

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