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Diverse Group of Idahoans Calls for States to Keep Their Hands Off Public Lands


- A crowd of thousands gathered at the Idaho State Capitol for the Public Lands Rally. -  - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • A crowd of thousands gathered at the Idaho State Capitol for the Public Lands Rally.
The great outdoors are Idaho's great unifier. That was the tone taken by speakers and attendees of the Public Lands Rally, which brought together thousands of people March 4 at the Idaho Capitol to protest the prospect of transferring control of public lands away from the feds.

"There are people here from all walks of life and from all party lines," said Laura Feeney, who carried a sign saying she isn't a paid protester. "People aren't agreeing on much else."

After taking part in the Women's March immediately after President Donald Trump's inauguration, Feeney said she was "offended" when political leaders claimed the millions of protesters who took to the streets were paid to be there. She wanted to make sure anyone watching wouldn't be able to say she received a single cent for standing up for public lands, which make up more than 60 percent of Idaho.

Early in the Trump administration, there was talk of attempts to cede control of public lands to state agencies. U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) in January fronted the Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act, which would have resulted in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management selling off 3.3 million acres in 10 Western states. Chaffetz killed the bill after receiving overwhelming opposition to it from his constituents.

The loss of public lands has "always been a risk, and it'll always be a risk," said Guy Pence.

A fisherman, hiker and hunter, Pence said selling BLM land would likely mean places where he recreates would be cordoned off, closed or otherwise unavailable for public use.

"I don't want to have to see some no-trespassing sign or pay a fee," he said. "Once [lands] are gone, they're gone."

For many in the crowd, the loss of BLM lands would be tantamount to the loss of part of what they saw as Idaho's independent spirit—one that binds together the sporting community, from dirt bikers and game hunters to kayakers and rock climbers. Speakers who took to the podium included trail runners, hunters, people whose businesses depend on strong cultures of tourism and recreation, and Native Americans, for whom BLM land is part and parcel to their rights by treaty.

Event emcee and Boise Bicycle Project Executive Director Jimmy Hallyburton said people with little in common politically can get behind public lands in Idaho.

"There is a heck of a lot of diversity in this crowd," he said.

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