We've been tough on our two Idaho senators and our state legislature for their shenanigans relating to the sale of our public lands over the last few weeks, so it's nice to see at least one of our representatives come down on what most of us here think is the right side of the issue.
Thank you for contacting me regarding your views about federal land in Idaho. I appreciate hearing from you and having the opportunity to respond.
Nearly two-thirds of the state of Idaho is federal land, which means that land management decisions made by federal agencies have a direct impact on our state's economy and the lives of Idahoans who live, work, and recreate on or near federal lands. As the Idaho state legislature undertakes efforts to transfer federal land to state control, I understand the concerns of many Idahoans about the need to mitigate the influence that the federal government has over land in Idaho. That being said, I have heard from a number of Idahoans who do not believe this would not be a prudent or fiscally responsible course of action.
In the context of the discussion, I think it is helpful to understand the history of federal land ownership and current policies in place regarding the disposal of federal lands. Most federally-owned land is in Alaska and 11 other western states, including Idaho. Although the federal government did not own the land in the original states of the Union, lands west of the Mississippi were generally acquired by the federal government from foreign governments. The Constitution gives Congress authority over lands owned by the federal government, and Congress has enacted different policies toward federal land throughout our nation's history. Initially it was the policy of the federal government to dispose of land it owned, first to pay for the Revolutionary War and finance the government and later to encourage settlement in the West through homesteading and infrastructure development. During this time the federal government granted 328 million acres to the states, including Idaho.
In the 1960's, Congress's public land policy began to shift away from disposing of land and toward retaining it. In 1976, Congress passed the Federal Land Policy and Management of 1976 (FLPMA), which declared that retaining public lands in federal ownership was the policy of the United States. Although many western states and local governments reacted to this new policy by trying to claim federal land for the states or force the federal government to dispose of its lands, a period known as the "Sagebrush Rebellion," Courts have continually upheld the federal government's constitutional right to retain ownership of federal lands.
Recognizing that states, counties, and individuals have repeatedly been unsuccessful at attempting to assert authority over federal lands, I have worked throughout my time in Congress to ensure that federal land management agencies are good neighbors. For example, I have consistently supported full funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, through which the federal government compensates local governments for the loss of tax income due to the presence of federal land in their state or county. The PILT program is critical to communities throughout Idaho. I am also a strong supporter of funding the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, which was passed in 2000 to provide an alternative source of education funding for counties with a high percentage of national forests or federal land.
In addition, as a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Interior and the Environment, which oversees funding for federal land management agencies like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Forest Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service, I am constantly encouraging these agencies to work with state and local officials and private individuals when making land management decisions in Idaho. I strongly believe that Idahoans should have a say in how the land on which they work and live is managed, and I will continue to advocate for a strong partnership between federal, state, and local land management agencies.
Once again, thank you for contacting me about this issue. Your thoughts and opinions are important to me as your Representative in the US Congress. Also, I encourage you to visit my website, www.simpson.house.gov, to sign up for my e-newsletter and read about my views on a variety of issues.
Member of Congress