An agreement formalizing public access to state-owned lands has been a good deal for the two Idaho agencies involved as well as hunters, anglers and recreationists, state officials said Thursday.
The Idaho Department of Lands and Idaho Department of Fish and Game said that both sides are benefiting from the 2018 agreement.
Fish and Game through fees it collects from hunters and anglers is paying the Lands Department $580,000 annually, with about a fourth of that in law enforcement patrols. The agreement involves access to about 3,750 square miles (9,700 square kilometers) of Idaho endowment lands.
Idaho received endowment lands in 1890 when it became a state. State lands are working lands that are required under the Idaho Constitution to be managed to make money, mainly for public schools. Most of the money is generated through logging.
The lands have always been open to the public, but state officials say the agreement has increased awareness that they are accessible to hunters, anglers and others.
“And the state has been very open that they’re welcome there,” said Roger Phillips, spokesman for Fish and Game.
Phillips and Bill Haagenson, an administrator at the Lands Department, said it’s difficult to quantify how many visitors are heading for state lands following the agreement. But anecdotally, each said, the numbers appear to be growing.
“I think we can say that recreation use on endowment lands has been and continues to increase,” Haagenson said. “As our population grows, we’re seeing more recreation.”
Miscreants or public lands slobs occasionally show up, but state officials say most visitors have been respectful and responsible.
About 96 percent of endowment lands are accessible by foot or boat. Maps of accessible endowment lands are available on Fish and Game’s website. There are also smartphone apps available that show state, federal and private lands while a person moves across the landscape.
That’s particularly useful for hunters, said Phillips, who uses an app that turns the screen blue for state land.
“If you’re standing in that blue patch, you know you’re in pretty good shape,” he said.
Because the Idaho Constitution requires state lands to be used to generate money, there was some concern individuals or companies could pay to lease state lands, cutting off public access. Such a request is still possible.
A decision on that would be up to the Idaho Land Board, comprised of Republican Gov. Brad Little and four other statewide elected officials, who manage endowment lands and direct the Lands Department.
The agreement between the Lands Department and Fish and Game “gives the board another piece of information to consider should an application for use come in,” Haagenson said.
Idaho endowment lands are somewhat scattered, the state having received 1-mile (2.6-kilometer) square sections when it became a state. Over the years, exchanges or sales left the current configuration with some remaining isolated sections, but many others accumulated into blocks of sections, particularly in northern and central Idaho.
“There’s a lot of good timberland in central Idaho that provides really good wildlife habitat,” Phillips said. “A lot of that is intertwined with national forest land.”