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Federal Forests Could Be Declared 'Public Nuisances' Under Idaho Bill

Robyn Broyles
File photo. A bill in the Idaho Legislature would allow Idaho counties to declare federal forestland within their borders to be a public nuisance.

Idaho counties could declare federal forestland within their borders to be a "catastrophic public nuisance" under a measure approved by an Idaho legislative committee Tuesday.

During public testimony, Idaho Freedom Foundation vice president Fred Birnbaum said the motive behind the measure is to pressure the federal government to address wildfire risk.

"To the extent that the Forest Service is responsible, then let's hold them accountable,” Birnbaum said. “Let us insist and let's allow our county commissioners to ask the Forest Service when their counties are threatened to please abate the nuisance before it destroys communities.”

Republican lawmakers suggested the way to abate wildfire risk would be to increase logging or forest thinning. However, the sponsors acknowledged that state and county nuisance laws have no legal power over federal land management.

Despite that, "This is a good step towards giving the county commissioners an opportunity to work better with [federal agencies] and have them maybe take us a little more seriously," testified Washington County (Idaho) Commissioner Kirk Chandler.

Critics who came to the microphone in the House Resources Committee on Tuesday said the legislation was an unproductive "exercise in name calling."

"If I'm trying to get you to do something, the last thing I want to do is call you names," said Boise attorney Forrest Goodrum on behalf of the Ada County Fish and Game League. "I don't think that's the right way to approach something."

"You're taking another trip into an alternate universe here," Goodrum scolded lawmakers.

The Idaho Senate previously passed this forestland public nuisance bill on a 28-6 vote. It now only needs approval from the full House before reaching the governor's desk.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.