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Commentaries and editorials

Nez Perce Water Agreement
Threatens Property Rights

by Frank Priestley
Guest Opinion, The Idaho Statesman, January 12, 2005

Idaho Farm Bureau president Frank Priestley After a strenuous review process, Idaho Farm Bureau Federation delegates voted on Dec. 2 to oppose the Nez Perce Water Agreement. After putting forth the effort to understand what this complex agreement does and doesn't do, we believe that although there are many positives, the compromise of private property rights outweighs the potential benefits.

The attorneys and others who negotiated the Mediator's Term Sheet did an adequate job in looking out for irrigation interests and finding creative ways to lessen endangered species concerns on certain species. However, the tradeoff comes in a compromise to private property rights that Farm Bureau members cannot support.

Not long after the agreement was released for public consumption, North Idaho landowners began raising serious concerns about private property rights a fundamental Farm Bureau belief. Idaho Farm Bureau recognizes timber as an agricultural commodity and supports the Idaho Forest Practices Act. We oppose new regulations that go above and beyond IFPA. The Nez Perce agreement appears to supersede IFPA in that it reclassifies streams, extends buffer zones on either side of streams and restricts the amount of timber landowners can harvest on private land. The state has vigorously defended the current buffer zones, established by the IFPA as being sufficient to protect wildlife, soil, air and water.

In addition, the agreement requires these landowners to grant access to private land to state agencies for mapping and habitat monitoring activities. Further, the agreement calls into question how this land inside the buffer zones that is no longer available for timber harvest will be taxed. Will the landowner be expected to pay property taxes on land he can gain no income from?

The agreement doesn't spell these details out, and there are dozens of other similar examples sprinkled throughout the term sheet. The forestry component is voluntary, but landowners who don't sign up will be in obvious jeopardy of lawsuits from environmental groups.

Another dubious aspect of the forestry component of the agreement is that while state, federal and private land are subject to these new regulations, Nez Perce tribal lands are exempt.

The Idaho Farm Bureau has a statewide membership made up of many diverse interests. One thing we all have in common is private property ownership and defending private property rights is one of our most important charges. The Nez Perce agreement compromises private property rights and in doing so pits north Idaho landowners against south Idaho irrigators. If we are willing to compromise the private property rights of our neighbors, what might we be expected to compromise next?

Frank Priestley of Franklin is president of Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.
Nez Perce Water Agreement Threatens Property Rights
The Idaho Statesman, January 12, 2005

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