Public Lands Rally demonstrators send message to lawmakers

Posted at 5:55 PM, Mar 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-05 20:05:34-05

Idahoans from every corner of the state gathered along the Gem state's Capitol steps Saturday as part of a public lands rally. It was organized to send a clear message to lawmakers.

The debate over who should manage public lands has been ongoing in U.S. history. Opponents of transferring the federal, public lands to state or local management say management costs are something to consider.

Wildfire protection alone is costly, and they fear states would at some point be forced to raise taxes or sell off iconic, national properties to developers or other private investors in order to pay for everything the federal government currently handles.

"The reality is that state lands are not public lands. State lands are for economic purposes for the state. The state has already proven that they would sell those lands off," said Luke Nelson, a professional ultramarathon runner. "Forty-one percent of the state lands that were given to Idaho at statehood have been sold."  

Nelson was asked to provide his perspective at Saturday's rally.

"It [the outdoors] has spoken to me, it has spoken to you and it's time we raise our voices," Nelson said while addressing the crowd.

The man from Eastern Idaho travels the world to run long distances in backcountry areas. Nelson says people in other countries don't enjoy the freedoms that Americans do with regards to having access to the Great Outdoors.

"We have an amazing system right now, and we've got to fight for it," another speaker said.

"I'm a cyclist, I ski, I hunt, I fish... I do all those things that Idahoans do," commented Frank Leone with the Idaho Outdoor Business Council.

Outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds, along with representatives of Native American tribes in Idaho, came together wanting to do something to help preserve their heritage.

Leone says keeping public lands open could also save jobs within the industry as well. He fears they could disappear with less places for people to recreate.

"Hopefully, Idahoans will reach out to their legislators and let them know that public lands should remain in public hands," Leone said.

Of course, not everybody agrees with the rally demonstrators. Advocates of transferring federal, public lands to state or local management say decisions on use and development are best made by the people closest to the issue. They say locally driven stewardship of public lands would improve access and environmental health, as well as economic productivity.