In 1890, the brand new state of Idaho was granted more than four million acres of land by the federal government. Public education is the beneficiary of money generated from state land sales to individuals or companies. Idaho law limits these sales to no more than 320 acres in some cases and 160 acres in others.
But according to a report from the Wilderness Society and the Idaho Conservation League, about 200,000 acres may have been sold in violation of these constitutional limits.
“I think this is a cautionary tale for the public," says Brad Brooks of the Wilderness Society. "Because if public lands were to be given to the state and sold off, access for hunting, fishing, hiking and biking would be gone forever. And the public really has no say over whether or how the state lands are sold.”
ICL and the Wilderness Society learned that about 300 individuals, businesses and corporations bought land above the limit between 1890 and the 1980s. Through public records requests, they found that some of the land was purchased by timber companies decades ago.
Brooks says the goal of the report is not to accuse the current land board of wrongdoing. But he says the violations are significant in the context of current public lands debates that advocate for more state control.
“If it were to get violated again, how would the public know? As far as I can tell, no one has ever talked about this. We’re talking about constitutional violations potentially.”
Brooks says the conservation groups will follow the report with a request for an audit by the Idaho Department of Lands, to figure out whether these sales did indeed break state law.
Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill
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