Christmas tree hunts endangered by Idaho GOP’s lands proposal

An important event for my family is the annual Christmas tree hunt. Up in Idaho’s Panhandle, it can mean a day-trip as far as you can get down a logging road or a short walk beyond your backyard. A handsaw, a cheerful attitude and a small herd of kids post-holing behind you create precious, lifelong memories. These memories would not be possible without our public lands.

I wonder if Idaho GOP leaders have not made similar memories? Do they not fish, or hunt, or hike, or ride in our great outdoors? Have they never cut their own Christmas tree?

If they have those memories, it makes no sense that these politicians would pursue a policy that will lock us out of Idaho’s public lands. If nostalgia can’t sway them, then surely they know that Idaho’s outdoor recreation industry made $6.3 billion in sales last year. They must see some value in clean air, clean water and room for elk to roam.

It is perplexing that GOP politicians seem set on diminishing this public lands legacy. In fact, they are so confident that this is a winning idea that they are taking a legislative public lands task force on the road.

On its face, that looks splendid: The task force is supposed to “study” public lands disposal and they are asking Idahoans about getting “state management” of those lands. But, the task force already has ample evidence that Idaho cannot afford the $390 million annual price tag of management that the federal government now spends. If Idaho were to get title to all that land, they would be forced to sell to pay management costs. Why take such a terrible risk unless that was your plan in the first place?

Another reason for the road show is to whip up the passions of anti-public land zealots so they will vote in 2014. Our politicians are using taxpayer dollars to do it too. Some, such as the Idaho County Commissioners, are giving $15,000 in taxpayer funds to a Utah-based, anti-public lands group called the American Lands Council. The potential road show would be on the public’s dime as well.

For the sake of crass politics, Idaho GOP leaders want to sell our Christmas-tree hunting grounds. These politicians don’t believe that regular families should roam, ride, hunt, fish, or hike without paying for it. Do you recall when Gov. Butch Otter sponsored a bill in Congress to sell Idaho public lands to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief? Despite an election-year conversion, there’s no reason to believe his attitude has changed.

The Idaho GOP philosophy: If you can’t afford access to private reserves or clubs, just take on another minimum wage job to pay for that privilege.

Idaho GOP leaders may not care that regular Idahoans value clean air, clean water and elbowroom. But we care. We’ve been to places that don’t have those things. We like it here better.

I encourage every Idahoan who values the legacy of Idaho’s wild places and our unique quality of life to contact their legislators, Democratic and Republican, to let them know that Idaho is not for sale. In fact, even if they don’t know it yet, that may be the best gift that any of us can give to our children and grandchildren this year.

By Larry Kenck, Idaho Democratic Party chairman.

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