The Idaho Land Board, made up of Idaho's top state officers including Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, has approved a 2014 plan to harvest nearly 250 million board feet of timber, the largest planned harvest in decades. In contrast, Idaho's 2002 timber plan volume was 175 million board feet.
In this week's Boise Weekly, which hit the stands this morning, we report on Boise State Public Radio's recent "Community Conversation" on public land management where state officials champion Idaho's management of 3.6 million acres of endowment lands.
"About 1 million acres of that land is forested, and that generates about $50 million in income," said Dave Groeschl, state forester and deputy director of forestry and fire at the Idaho Department of Lands, referring to the financial returns of timber sales and commercial interests that are generated for Idaho public schools.
Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke, a cattle rancher from Oakley when he's not wrangling lawmakers at the Statehouse, took it one step further, suggesting that Idaho's endowment land management should serve as a role model for a Gem State takeover of federal land management.
"I think we can all agree that we do a very good job at managing the [endowment lands]. We should do the same thing, if given the chance, with federal lands," said Bedke. "Now think about this for a moment," he said, offering another hypothetical: "Imagine 400,000 acres set aside with proceeds dedicated to public education. Think about another 500,000 acres to help us with funding for roads. Another 500,000 acres could go for health and welfare. And we're talking about 37 million acres of that land in Idaho."
But Jonathan Oppenheimer, senior conservation associate with the Idaho Conservation League, vehemently disagreed.
"Look, we all want to have the best public education for our children, but selling off our public land is no way to achieve that," he said. "These lands are the legacy of all Americans, they're not just owned by Idaho. This is a radical idea."