Writings and observations

rainey BARRETT


There’s lots of craziness going on these days in states where the Republican Party is the dominant – really dominant – political game. No place worse than North Carolina where the governor and legislature are trampling civil rights, voting rights, personal rights, privacy rights, medical rights and about every other right you can think of to play to a diminishing crowd of white, nut-ball conservative, angry voters. Much of what the North Carolina legislature has done this year will wind up in the nation’s various courts. And a lot of it will likely be undone.

But Idaho and Utah are trying not to be forgotten in all the GOP excess with yet another run at a crazy idea wing-nut Republicans in those states have nourished for many a year – a takeover of federal land. They’re promoting it again with a new cast of characters hellbent on throwing the feds off the property. Every thinking resident of those states – of ANY party – should actively work to see this completely irresponsible idea fails yet again.

There are many, many reasons to keep such irresponsible efforts from being successful. But just concentrate on one – today’s terrible wildfires. Most western states have been badly burned this year. California, Oregon, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arizona, Washington and Idaho. Much destruction has been on federal lands – grazing, ranching, recreational and timber.

Let’s just concentrate on one state – Idaho. Suppose Idaho owned all the federal land within its borders. All of it. Whatever was done with those lands – whatever happened on those lands – it would be up to Idaho taxpayers to take care of it and pay all the bills.

Now, focus on just one of the issues all Idahoans would have to contend with – wildfire. If the State owned all of the property on which our August fires have raged, every dollar – every dime – every penny to fight those fires would come out of the state treasury. Millions – tens of millions – would be the responsibility of the good folks of Idaho. The feds could sit on their considerable resources and roast marshmallows on the glowing coals.

“Go for it, Idaho,” they’d say. “You wanted to own it. You got it. And keep your damned flames away from our federal trees!”

So, Idaho taxpayers would be faced with a double-edged sword. One sharp edge would be the money lost in millions and millions of federal dollars now paid to Idaho coffers in lieu of taxes and from resource sales. The other edge would be the nearly impossible-to-cover costs of fighting massive blazes, then repairing all the damage.

And this. About half of all dollars spent on Idaho K-12 education comes from federal lands; whether it be timber bucks, in-lieu monies, recreation or tourist dollars. Now, if Idaho owned the land and increased timber cutting, you could make up that amount and probably more. And you might do that for a number of years. Then what? While you’re waiting many, many years for replacement trees to grow, where does the lost K-12 money come from? Rather, whom would it come from?

Year ago, Idaho had a U.S. Senator known for colorful – if not intellectual – quotes. One of them was: “It makes no sense to sell the farm to buy a sports car.” Not deep thinking. But accurate.

Even ignoring the economics and overall saneness of the fire argument, there are the hundreds of millions of dollars the feds pour into Idaho for maintenance of all that land. Throw ‘em out of Idaho and Utah – along with all federal dollars – and you’ll have either huge state tax increases or forests, lakes, rivers and range lands in worse shape than they already are.

Legislatures in both states currently have committees meeting with “experts” of this, that and the other. Some “experts” claim it’s not only possible to kick the feds out but the world – inside Utah and Idaho – would be a better place. Other “experts” say you can’t and shouldn’t.

At the moment, most of the supporters of this “out damned feds” effort are Republicans who believe timber companies and other privately owned resource extractors would be better caretakers of all those lands. While it’s possible there could be some improvements, private companies operate on the sound business principle of cost-versus-benefit. While that’s an old, well- proven and quite workable rule for business, it can seldom be applied to tasks the government undertakes for which profit is not possible.

You can argue there should be income to the states from federally owned lands within their borders. But operating and maintaining those lands is not a profit-making situation.

Before these GOP legislators get all heated up to tell the feds to take a hike, there needs to be a sound economic reason to do so. And – so far – nobody has made one.

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carlson CHRIS


We launched our drift boat for a day of fly fishing on Idaho’s Teton River at a site within what was for a brief period of time the reservoir behind the Bureau of Reclamation constructed Teton Dam which catastrophically collapsed on June 5

Eleven lives were lost, as well as 13,000 head of cattle. The government paid out $300 million in damages though the total value of the destruction wrought by the cascading wave of water was more like $2 billion.

To stand at what was once the bottom of the 17 mile long reservoir, and imagine the surface of the stored 288,000 acre/feet some 240 feet above one’s head, and then look downstream at the remaining evidence of the 310 foot high and .6 of a mile long earthen dam was weird to say the least.

Having seen video of the collapse many times though (Still easily seen on YouTube), it was easy to envision the massive power of the pent-up water bursting forth at an incredible 2,000,000 cubic feet per second rate, roaring down the remaining six miles of the canyon before starting to fan out over Snake River plain farmland and flooding a number of communities from Wilford to Rexburg.

My fly fishing bud, Father Steve Dublinski, pastor of Spokane’s St. Augustine Catholic parish, and I were concluding a week-long fly fishing jaunt around Idaho that had seen us fish some of Idaho’s finest waters including the Big Wood River, the north and east forks of the Big Lost, and several selected spots on the main Salmon.

Since the collapse of the dam the Teton had become well-known as a fine cutthroat, rainbow and cutbow fishery with anglers coming to the area from all over the world.

Our guide and host this fine July morning was Idaho native Doug Siddoway, a member of the large sheep ranching family in southeastern Idaho. Doug’s cousin is State Senator Jeff Siddoway, from Terreton, who represents the sprawling 35th district. Doug though is considered the “black sheep” in the family because he is an outspoken Democrat.

Doug graduated from St. Anthony’s South Fremont High School and went onto Notre Dame where he obtained his bachelor’s degree. He then attended and graduated with a law degree from the University of Utah’s law school.

While he and his wife, Lauri, reside in Spokane, they maintain a farm with a lovely, modern-designed home outside of Ashton. Doug is and Lauri was a member of the Randall, Danskin law firm before Washington Governor Christine Gregoire appointed Lauri to the Washington Court of Appeals in March of 2010.

As we drifted down the river past where the dam had stood we discussed the hubris that must have existed within the Bureau of Reclamation that allowed them to believe they could safely build an earthen structure in the basaltic and rhylotic rock and soil that constituted the edge of the dam.

Even today, fissures can be seen which the Bureau felt could easily be filled by an influx of grouting to minimize leaking. They tragically guessed wrong.

Drifting by where the dam had stood brought a flood of memories. I recalled the day when Leo Krulitz, the Interior Department’s Solicitor, called to ask whether the Department should sue the dam’s primary contractor – the Boise firm of Morrison-Knudsen.

I didn’t think much of the idea since M-K’s first witness would be the former Idaho governor and current Interior secretary, his boss and mine, Cecil D. Andrus. I told Krulitz the governor had ordered an immediate review by the Department of Water Resources, which exonerated the contractor finding they had followed the design specifications put forth by the Bureau of Reclamation. Krulitz wisely dropped the idea.

I also recalled the governor arriving at Ricks College by helicopter following
our first overflight inspection of the devastated area. As we disembarked a thundering herd of journalists descended and a tv reporter from Salt Lake thrust a microphone into the governor’s face and shouted, “Governor, are you going to rebuild the dam?”

The normally unflappable Andrus, coldly looked at the guy and said (with curse words omitted) that was the dumbest question one could ask when the focus was providing relief to people in need of help, and that if the guy didn’t get the mic out of his face he was going to jam it down his throat.

Siddoway loved the story. However, he said that sadly there were some in the area with short memories who incredibly were once again talking about rebuilding the dam.

It makes no sense from either an environmental point of view or an economic point of view, he said. “Why destroy a thriving fishery for a questionable project that would primarily provide more water to grow more crops that would only further depress prices?” Doug asked. Why, indeed.

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Carlson Idaho