Idaho lawmaker wants to seize federal lands via eminent domain

Gov. Butch Otter's executive order asking for an accounting of federal funds by state agencies is due to the Division of Financial Management by Sept. 2.

Earlier this year, the Utah Legislature passed a bill authorizing the state government to seize federally-managed lands through eminent domain.  Utah legislators, frustrated with what they feel to be mismanagement of public lands, approved legislation on the belief that the state could care for the lands in a much better manner than the feds.

A state lawmaker in Idaho, Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, is eying what’s happening in Utah and may look to pass a similar bill in Idaho in 2011.

According to Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo’s website, 63 percent of Idaho’s land is owned and managed by the federal government in one form or another.  Private entities – citizens and business interests – control 30.7 percent of lands in the state, while the Idaho state government owns 5.1 percent.

Utah lawmakers want to take advantage of natural resources on the lands and generate more tax revenue for the state.  Anderson said that the same goal will be found in his legislation, which will be a near-copy of the Utah bill.  “Why are proceeds from those lands going back to Washington, D.C.?” asked Anderson, who added that timber and geothermal resources are available on federal lands and possibly even natural gas.  “There have been some natural gas pockets discovered and who knows how much is out there on federal lands,” he said.

Some critics of Utah efforts have called the bill frivolous and only a display of political grandstanding.  Bob Keiter, a public lands expert at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, said the federal government is allowed to manage its public lands as it sees fits through power granted by the supremacy clause in the U.S. Constitution.  “Every court that’s considered whether to override the federal prerogative on federal lands has sided with the federal government,” Keiter told the New York Times. “The state doesn’t have much to stand on legally.”

Anderson rejects Keiter’s argument and says the issue needs to be brought up in Idaho.  “That’s open for discussion, but I don’t see it that way,” Anderson explained.  “The state has to protect its own.”

Though the feds control and manage the lands, the state and school districts do benefit somewhat financially.  The federal government sends payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) funds to school districts in each of Idaho’s 44 counties in varying amount.  In counties where federal ownership of lands is a high percentage of total land in the area, districts receive large amounts.

For example, in 2005, Elmore, Cassia, and Blaine counties received more than $1 million from the PILT program, but Anderson worries that those funds aren’t guaranteed.  “PILT funds are nothing more than a Band-Aid and we are always at risk of losing those funds,” said Anderson.  “There is no benefit to the schools.  Imagine if we got those federal lands and took them and put them in another endowment for schools.  It would take the burden off individual taxpayers.”

Indeed, in past years, disbursement of PILT funds has become politically-charged and delivery of federal dollars is sometimes disrupted.  Earlier this year, Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch penned a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar calling on his department to release the money on time to school districts around the country after unexplained delays. “Many of our rural counties lose so much of their tax base to federal land ownership, and the timely release of PILT payments is imperative to ensure that counties recoup lost tax dollars and can fund critical road maintenance projects and schools,” wrote Crapo on July 25, 2010.

If Anderson is successful in getting the bill through the Idaho Legislature in 2011, the state will need to be ready to pay up for legal fees.  It has been projected the Utah bill could cost as much as $3 million to defend in court, though lawmakers in that state feel it’s worth the cost if the lands are added to state ownership and the revenue base in enlarged.

Anderson’s work on the bill will continue as he prepares for the legislative session, slated to begin Jan. 11, 2011.  He said he is likely to team with other lawmakers in the House to present one bill, though he did not specify who might participate in the effort.

Note: Map used in this post came from



/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/fedownership.jpg, /wp-content/uploads/2010/11/fedownership.jpg
Image Caption:
The federal government holds 63.1 percent of all land in Idaho, The federal government holds 63.1 percent of all land in Idaho
Tagged under


  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Idaho lawmaker wants to seize federal lands via eminent domain « Idaho Reporter --

  2. Terry at KEA

    Frivolous legislation leading to frivolous litigation. State tax dollars for legal fees against federal tax dollars for legal fees. Frivolity and waste – squared!

  3. Martin Johncox

    This doesn’t sound very well-thought-out. Does the state have the resources to manage these lands? What is the plan for making them generate more tax revenue? Who would be allowed to use the resources, in what ways, and to whose benefit?

    I want my legislators to come up with no-nonsense plans for improving the business climate and job opportunities in this state, not to play sheriff for a day. This just sounds like another harebrained attempt to raise state tax revenues.

  4. Bee

    same cry-baby mentality here in our utah legislature. no plan other than to destroy public lands, pollute down wind and watersheds. money in the pockets of politicians and their families.

  5. sovereignthink

    keep Local Control of the Repulic Domain.

    $500 Dollar Silver – Idaho Silver State Bank ACT

    With Criminal Federal Spending, Silver Climbing under Shortage and the State filled with Silver; here is the Plan to Fight Fraud and offer security.

    The Idaho Silverhood Statehood and Perpetual Infrastructure Act

    A BILL
    To ensure that the measurement of the Idaho citizens endeavors, production, ingenuity, pursuits, creativity, labor, activity and lives is secure and honest. Allow Self Contained Instate Determination of All Government Services and Perpetual Increase of Community Trust and Public Domain.
    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Idaho in Congress assembled,



  6. Pingback: Idaho Prospects | From The Provinces

  7. sugarswish

    All of you that feel the states don’t have the power need to read the constitution. Pay close attention to second, ninth and tenth amendments. Try reading the second one more than once and understand what states are suppose to do with a terrine government.




Humidity 37%

Wind 6 mph

  • 28 Aug 201492°F62°F
  • 29 Aug 201492°F61°F