Public land use debate picks up in Boise

Posted at 6:25 PM, Jan 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-30 20:30:24-05

Recent events at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon have stirred up a longtime debate in the U.S. over the people's rights to access federally managed land.

A rally and march was held Saturday in Boise.

The rally started at the statehouse and ended at the Centre On The Grove where a Western Rangeland Property Rights workshop was being held.

As they took off marching, they chanted: "Public lands in public hands."

One of the attendees was Dave Hayes, who is a former U.S. Forest Service employee.

This isn't the first time the issue of who should control land in the West has come up in his lifetime.

"Like Ted Trueblood said in the 80's, 'They're fixin to steal your public lands.' That's what the Sagebrush Rebellion was all about... was to try and get these Forest Service and BLM lands back to the state and eventually into private," he said.

Hayes' biggest fear is that the public will no longer have access to the Great Outdoors. If land management was left to leaders at the state or local level, he thinks it would open territories up for exploitation.

It's Hayes' hope that state lawmakers hear their message loud and clear.

"We're just trying to quail the pressure, especially on politicians, to stop thinking about divesting these lands or to put them into state ownership," Hayes said.

One of the rally organizers, Katie Fite, believes the Burns, Oregon militia is a great example of how things can quickly spiral out of control when there is a lack of oversight. She says supporters of keeping public land... public should speak up and defend their access to Idaho's backcountry beauty.

"To say, 'No, I don't recognize the power of the federal government to control my privately owned livestock on public land just creates chaos and lawlessness and damages the wildlife habitat, the cultural sites and everything else," Fite said.

To learn more about Western Watersheds Project-related events, look for them on Facebook under the page titled "Keep public lands... public."

Meanwhile, inside the Centre On The Grove, ranchers, farmers, miners and loggers from all over the Pacific Northwest were taking notes.

The workshop held Saturday was sponsored by founding members of the Federal Lands Conference in Utah.

Speakers said they were not there to talk about the transfer of lands from federal to the state or local government.

The focus, instead, was on educating people on what their rights really are when it comes to land and property.

"We all agree that regardless of who manages those lands that a significant portion should remain open to the public," said Todd Macfarlane, a Utah-based attorney. "They should have access and be able to recreate, hunt, fish... do all the things they may enjoy doing, even if it's not a matter of them having a permit to raise cattle or to mine, or to log or whatever the case may be."

Macfarlane added that they do believe rules and regulations should come from the local level, if at all possible.