Idaho legislative committee hears from opponents of BLM’s proposal to protect public lands

Rule would address conservation and public land management — amid drought, wildfires, other drastic changes in the West

By: - May 9, 2023 8:02 pm
Idaho Committee on Federalism

The Idaho Legislature’s Committee on Federalism meets May 9 at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise. (Clark Corbin/Idaho Capital Sun)

An Idaho legislative committee that was created to be a check on federal power met Tuesday, taking testimony against a proposed federal rule on conservation and public land management — amid drought, wildfires and other drastic changes in the West.

The Idaho Legislature’s Committee on Federalism heard from a prepared lineup of witnesses that included Idaho agriculture and business groups. The meeting was open to the public.

The Bureau of Land Management and the Biden administration published the new public land rule last month. The BLM is accepting public comment until June 20. Anyone can provide a public comment online, at The bureau had received more than 12,000 public comments as of May 9, with 42 days left in the public comment period.

The new proposed rule on conservation and land health is necessary to better manage public lands in response to climate change, historic droughts, large wildfires and severe storms that are being experienced across the West, BLM officials said in a press release before they published the proposed rule April 3.

Speakers who opposed the rule told Idaho’s GOP-controlled federalism committee at Tuesday’s meeting in the Idaho State Capitol that the rule could prioritize conservation over grazing, recreation, motorized vehicle usage and mining.

Those speakers included representatives from:

  • U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher’s office
  • J.R. Simplot Co.
  • Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
  • Idaho Water Resources Board
  • Idaho Recreation Co.

Idaho’s 2023 legislative session adjourned April 6. The Committee on Federalism is an interim committee, meeting during the legislative off-season. The committee includes eight Republicans and two Democrats and is charged with monitoring federal laws and regulations that may affect Idaho. 

In recent years, the committee has served as a sort of launching pad for the Idaho Legislature to push back against federal policies and laws it disagrees with, including COVID-19 restrictions and environmental, social and governance standards

Everyone who spoke during Tuesday’s meeting was scheduled to speak in advance, according to the meeting’s agenda

There was no testimony from conservation groups or members of the public. Nobody from the Bureau of Land Management, or who was in favor of the public lands rule, spoke to legislators. 

Lori Lusty, senior environmental engineering manager for J.R. Simplot Co., told the federalism committee that the Bureau of Land Management allows multiple uses for public lands, making the land available for mining, oil and gas extraction, hunting, fishing, recreation and grazing. Under the proposed rule, Lusty worries that conservation leases and the ability for the BLM to designate areas of critical environmental concern would place additional limits on mining on Bureau of Land Management land. 

“The long history of land management is that, with very few exceptions, once lands are designated for conservation purposes, they are no longer available for multiple uses,” Lusty said. 

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Across the country, the Bureau of Land Management oversees about 245 million acres of public land. In Idaho, the BLM oversees about 12 million acres, which is about 22% of the state’s land area. 

The federalism committee doesn’t introduce or vote on bills, because the Idaho legislature is not in session, but its discussions often lead to new bills when the Idaho Legislature is in session, such as the bills pushing back against ESG standards.

Dirk Mendive, the regional director for U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher’s Meridian office, told the committee that the Bureau of Land Management is going around Congress by trying to reinterpret a federal law — the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 — through executive branch action.   

​​“I just would like the committee to know that Congressman Fulcher is strongly opposed to this rule and he is currently exploring every legislative option that might be helpful to either stop or prevent this rule,” Mendive told the committee. 

“It is our desire to see this rule stopped,” he added.

Russ Hendricks, the legislative director for the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, also expressed concerns with the new public lands rule. He told the committee that he suspects the new rule would be used to implement cuts for grazing. 

Where did the BLM’s new public lands proposed rule come from?

The Bureau of Land Management published the proposed rule in the Federal Registry on April 3, kicking off a 75-day public comment period. 

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In a press release, BLM officials said the new rule lays the groundwork for preserving wildlife habitat and restoring public lands that have been affected by drought and wildfires. They said the proposed rule will give the federal government a way to identify areas of public land in need of conservation or restoration.

“As the nation continues to face unprecedented drought, increasing wildfires and the declining health of our landscapes, our public lands are under growing pressure. It is our responsibility to use the best tools available to restore wildlife habitat, plan for smart development, and conserve the most important places for the benefit of the generations to come,” Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland said in a written statement when the proposed public lands rule was announced. “As we welcome millions of visitors to hunt, fish and recreate on our public lands each year, now is the time to improve the health and management of special places.”

Shortly before adjourning Tuesday afternoon, the Idaho Legislature’s Committee on Federalism voted to submit feedback on the pending lands rule during this public comment period.

Committee members did not discuss what comments the committee would offer, or how they would agree to the language. Instead, legislators serving on the committee agreed to prepare statements and public comments after Tuesday’s meeting ended.


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Clark Corbin
Clark Corbin

Clark Corbin has more than a decade of experience covering Idaho government and politics. He has covered every Idaho legislative session since 2011 gavel-to-gavel. Prior to joining the Idaho Capital Sun he reported for the Idaho Falls Post Register and Idaho Education News. His reporting in Idaho has helped uncover a multimillion-dollar investment scam and exposed inaccurate data that school districts submitted to the state.