BOISE -- It is one of the hottest topics in the West right now, the standoff between a Nevada rancher and the Bureau of Land Management. The standoff seems to be over for now, but the issue is far from resolved. And, people across the country are weighing in on what is becoming a lightning rod issue of states' rights versus federal rights.
Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, is a cattle and sheep rancher whose cattle graze on BLM lands. He believes it would be better if Idaho controlled all the public land within our borders.
The lightning rod issue that's sparking all this debate happened down in Nevada when the BLM rounded up about 400 cattle belonging to rancher Cliven Bundy. He has refused to pay federal grazing fees but says he does pay grazing fees to the county. The Bundys also have refused to scale back their cattle operation because of the federal listing of the desert tortoise as threatened in 1990.
Andrus says there's no justification for Bundy not paying his grazing fees. But, he also says it was inappropriate for Nevada Sen. Harry Reid to call Bundy and his armed supporters domestic terrorists.
How does all this affect Idahoans? The federal government has more control over land in Idaho than anyone else. Andrus says he has disagreements with the BLM regularly, but understands that they have the authority on their lands.
But that's why he says, conflicts could be avoided if the state just took over control of those federal lands.
First, he says taxpayer money would be saved by the feds not having to pay to manage it.
The states would manage those lands under ownership and we could generate revenue. The forest land, or the timber land, that the state owns, we make money off of it because we manage it differently, said Andrus.
That mainly has to do with the state's timber contracts.
But critics say the federal government has done a fine job of managing those lands for years and there's no reason to change that. Also, many are worried that if the state controlled those lands they could just sell it and privatize land that was in the hands of the people.
Andrus says he wouldn't allow that to happen. I would not want that and that does not need to happen. We could ensure in statute that that would remain in the public's hands and interests, managed by the state, permanently.
Andrus admits any actual legislation to make this happen is years away.