From a March 21 letter written by Boise attorney (and former legislative candidate, and former U.S. attorney) Betty Richardson to the Idaho Legislature, on two measures intended to move some lands from federal to state control.
I write with regard to HCR 21 and HCR 22, both of which pertain to transferring much of Idaho’s federally owned land to the state. HCR 21 proposes that “the legislative council appoint a committee to undertake and complete a study of the process of the state acquiring title to and control of public lands controlled by the federal government in the state of Idaho.” HCR 22 sets out findings and demands the federal government “extinguish title to Idaho’s public lands and transfer title to those lands to the state of Idaho.”
Prior to making the demand referenced in HCR 22, it would seem wise to complete the study proposed in HCR 21. Further, it would seem crucial to expand the scope of that study to include a cost analysis, calculating the likely financial return to the state, as well as the cost to the state, of assuming the many obligations for which the federal government is now responsible. The important thing in any legislative change is to be thorough and honest. If the study committee takes a careful look at the fiscal issues, the legislature may find it prudent to proceed more slowly, if at all.
My concerns arise from my seven years of experience as the United States Attorney for the District of Idaho (1993-2001). A thorough cost analysis, I believe, will find the costs of a land transfer to far exceed the financial benefits. For instance, the transfer would require a huge additional state work force – not only to manage the lands but to carry out a great many attendant responsibilities. Below I offer just a few examples.
Presently, the federal government has the primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting criminal activity on federal land and for defending its agencies when they are sued in civil actions. If the proposed land transfer were to take place, the state would be responsible not only for managing those lands, but also for investigating and prosecuting crimes that occur there and defending the many civil suits that will continue to be filed by landowners and environmental interests alike.
Moreover, federal law enforcement plays a critical role in eradicating illegal marijuana growing operations. Last year, federal, county and local law enforcement officers took down marijuana growing operations near Galena Summit in the Sawtooth National Forest, and in Caribou and Jerome counties. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management brought substantial resources to bear in these eradication efforts, resources that would need to be replaced by the state were a land transfer to take place. (more…)