Organizers of a rally in support of keeping Idaho’s public lands under federal management estimate that nearly 3,000 people filled the Idaho Capitol rotunda and the steps in front of the statehouse Saturday.
More than 60 percent of the land in Idaho is administered by federal government agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service.
“Public lands are what defines our state. We have freedom and access,” said Brad Brooks, public lands director for the Wilderness Society. “We are incredibly fortunate. We are the luckiest people in America. We have a massive playground in our backyard. It’s where I take my daughter camping, I take her fishing on public lands. If we didn’t have our public lands, Idaho would look much different and our lifestyle would look much different.”
Speakers at Saturday's rally represented a variety of groups, including conservationists, the hunting industry, motorized and non-motorized outdoor recreation enthusiasts, and the Shoshone-Bannock tribes.
Photo gallery: Public Lands Rally at Idaho State Capitol
In recent years, some lawmakers in western states – including Idaho – have sought to have control of those lands transferred to the state. In a news release about Saturday’s rally, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership says “public lands consistently are under attack from private interests who want to turn public lands over to the states.”
The Idaho Farm Bureau, which supports transferring lands from federal to state control, disputes the argument that privatization is the goal.
“We think that the state can do a much better job. We want to caution that we’re not in favor of privatizing the land. No one on our side is saying take access away. We’re all from Idaho,” said John Thompson, director of public relations for the Idaho Farm Bureau. “We support the right to hunt and fish and do all those things people love to do. We don’t want to limit that. We think that these environmental groups that have stirred this up are supporting that position; we think that’s wrong.”
Conservation Voters for Idaho is among the groups that formed Idahoans for Public Lands, who organized the rally. CVI legislative associate Rialin Flores called the rally "a roaring success."
"We made a strong statement that Idahoans are for public lands, and they won't stand for any legislative attempts that support the state seizure of our treasured places," Flores said.
Related story: Rule easing public lands transfer concerns hunters, others