Central Idaho Land Exchange does not serve the public interest
Moscow – Today, multiple conservation and grassroots-citizen groups throughout the region stated unified opposition to the announcement of the Central Idaho Land Exchange. Western Pacific Timber owns approximately 39,000 acres of cutover lands in the Upper Lochsa drainage that are interspersed with National Forest System lands in a checkerboard pattern. Similar to past land-exchange proposals involving the Forest Service and the Upper Lochsa checkerboard, tens of thousands of acres of popular national forest lands would again be lost, and the public interest would not be served.
In the latest proposal announced yesterday by the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL), federal legislation would direct the Forest Service to deed tens of thousands of acres of valuable forested lands on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests scattered throughout North Central Idaho to the Idaho Department of Lands, in exchange for Western Pacific Timber deeding their cutover lands in the Upper Lochsa to the Forest Service. Western Pacific Timber would then receive a cash payment, based on the appraisal of their checkerboard lands. The convoluted proposal claims to be a value-for- value exchange, which is required by federal law, though the public does not know the market value of the badly cutover private lands near the Idaho/Montana border.
The groups are very disappointed in Idaho Governor Butch Otter’s attempt to force a legislative exchange despite strong opposition to the Upper Lochsa Land Exchange, which recently led to Idaho Senator Jim Risch dropping a land-exchange proposal a few years ago.
“Idaho Governor Butch Otter, who is also Chairman of the of the Idaho Department of Lands Land Board, is determined to go against the will of the public by congressionally forcing a land exchange, knowing full well of the public’s disapproval,” said Kathy Judson of the grassroots group Friends of the Palouse Ranger District. “An exchange by any name has proven time and again to not be in the public’s best interest and this is no different. We plan to open the closed doors and shine light on this exchange, which is better known as the Upper Lochsa Land Exchange. Not One Acre in any county!”
“The Palouse Great Old Broads for Wilderness have worked tirelessly for years to defeat the Upper Lochsa Land Exchange. During that time we toured and attended meetings in the region within the vicinity of the effected parcels. We learned that folks were totally unaware of the plans and when informed, were totally opposed,” said Cindy Magnuson, Broadband Co-Leader of the Palouse-Great Old Broads for Wilderness. “When we received the news of the ‘new’ Central Idaho Land Exchange, we were devastated, as we felt the issue was over. It’s hard to believe our state is trying to avoid public input and pulling the wool over our eyes, but this seems to be the case. As we see it, this is the Lochsa Land Exchange re-tweaked, and we are very disappointed in our statefs shenanigans.”
“The Clearwater-Snake Rivers Chapter of Trout Unlimited is very concerned about the loss of federal jurisdiction over lands that may affect coldwater fish and their habitat,” said Pat Finnegan, President Clearwater-Snake Rivers Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “Although federal acquisition of private lands in the upper Lochsa drainage is desirable, forfeiting timbered lands in trade that currently maintain ecological resilience in the headwaters of streams that support steelhead, salmon, and trout is not a comfortable alternative and will require considerable scrutiny.”
The groups are also concerned with the future of the Palouse Ranger District on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, specifically the precedent that legislation could set for future land exchanges and the sale of federal public lands to the states.
“The current Upper Lochsa Land Exchange proposal, as well as two original proposals, would jeopardize the management integrity of the Palouse Ranger District,” said Blake Ballard with Palouse Ranger District Retirees. “It would seriously impact the viability of the district and make it vulnerable to selection in future land exchange proposals off district that would be designed to consolidate checkerboard lands elsewhere. It would further complicate management of a district which has, over many years, become manageable through concerted efforts of right-of-way acquisition and property survey.”
“This amounts to a state land grab of national forests,” said Gary Macfarlane, Ecosystem Defense Director of Friends of the Clearwater. “This is not really an exchange but rather it sets a dangerous precedent in which national forests owned by all Americans are sold to a state. Returning the Upper Lochsa checkerboard to public ownership is important, but this is not the path forward. Senator Risch already dropped consideration of past legislation because of public opposition. IDL is beating a dead horse.”
“The public is sick and tired of back-door, non-transparent dealmaking that shortchanges the public,” said Janice Inghram, Idaho County Resident. “There is no guarantee that these lands, if they were to change ownership, would have the access that they currently have.”
Idaho Department of Lands recently responded to Friends of the Clearwater’s public record request about this proposal. That public information is available here.