Back to start on Lochsa land exchange

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News on December 20, 2013. Written by Marilyn Beckett.

The wild event began for most of us in December 2008. It drags on. As a cowboy in the rodeo, you’d see bulls scratching and throwing dirt all over, but nothing to sink your spurs into.

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said recently he’s no longer in charge of facilitating a legislative proposal to exchange high-elevation land in the Lochsa drainage owned by Western Pacific Timber for other large acreages of public land in Idaho managed by the U.S. Forest Service. But didn’t Risch recently suspend the Forest Service process so he could take over? Now he says the Forest Service and WPT are leading the charge on legislation?

This news causes me to scratch my head. Just this summer the Forest Service claimed it was “out of it” and the congressional delegation had taken over. Now the delegation is in the back seat with WPT and the Forest Service taking the reins again?

Now, since these folks believe they’re running the show, I’d like to think they know what they’re doing, and I just haven’t figured it out yet. I guess I’ll have to figure it out, though, since they aren’t telling me what they’re up to. But sitting here on the arena fence wondering how long this show will go on, it appears all the bulls are hat benders. For cowboys, that’s a bull that just runs around and around without bucking.

As far as the Forest Service is concerned, it shouldn’t be kicking up dust. It offers up an administrative proposal and is supposed to sit back and consider the facts. Instead it’s been acting bullish.

As for WPT, it has a hefty bet placed on the outcome. It would bank at least $20 million by making things work its way. WPT and the Forest Service crafted the proposal. They went through the process. The Forest Service supervisor decried the process and turned it over to the congressional delegation as some kind of improved plan.

Idaho’s congressional members are barely out of the chute and have run back to send out WPT, but … .

WPT behaves like a steer. It hasn’t met with the Nez Perce Tribe which stands to lose a lot if a land exchange happens. It hasn’t met with the many groups who are concerned about the land exchange and it hasn’t, in five years, been able to convince the people an exchange is a good idea.

The onus is on WPT. One thing is for sure, when it comes WPT’s representation in the arena, seeing is believing.

For instance, a recent article said WPT did fire salvage harvest on its Lochsa lands. But didn’t Plum Creek start the fires in its own slash from earlier harvests? We paid big to keep that fire from torching the Clearwater National Forest.

Believe WPT when it says it’s a small timber company? But then didn’t it say it is a land exchange company, and then again a timber company? It is small and can afford the consulting services of Mark Rey and Larry Craig?

WPT said in 2009 it would not allow public access on lands it acquired. Then it said it would, maybe, with conservation easements devaluing land it would receive so it would get more for less.

WPT is hedging a bet, but it has nothing worth betting on. It’s land is stripped of harvestable timber and isn’t developable. Five years ago, it would only accept land in exchange for its checkerboard-like parcels in the Lochsa. A couple years later, it said it would take cash knowing it was unlikely. Of course it would prefer land. It makes out better that way – many millions of dollars better.

The good cowboys see this rodeo isn’t worth the price of admission. It’s time to grab our quirts and drive the herd back to the start before we all get freight-trained.

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