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Posts tagged: Idaho state Land Board

Ysursa: ‘Honor and privilege to serve’

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa says he’s attended more than 400 state Land Board meetings in the past 40 years; he’s retiring at the end of his current term and participated in his final one today. He lauded the board for sticking to its constitutional mission: “That is the No. 1 goal of the Land Board is to maximize income for the long term for our beneficiaries under Article 9, Section 8 of the Constitution,” Ysursa said. The largest of those beneficiaries is Idaho’s K-12 public schools.

“I think we should never forget that the most valuable asset in the state of Idaho are its people, those are the ones we work for,” Ysursa said. “There’s also ones we work with, so I want to thank the Department of Lands staff over the years for the good work that they’ve done. Director (Tom) Schultz and others have really focused in on that mandate, again, it’s all about getting money for the beneficiaries. It’s been my honor and privilege to serve, and I appreciate it.”

Schultz presented both outgoing Land Board members – Ysursa and state schools Supt. Tom Luna – with paintings of Priest Lake, in memory of the board’s long dealings with cottage sites on the lake.

Luna: Endowment making a difference for Idaho school kids

Outgoing Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna had some parting words at his final state Land Board meeting today, as he ends his eight years in office. “Numerous times a year, I often press this board for larger and larger distributions (to schools ) – and there’s a reason for that,” he said. “These dollars that are provided to our public schools provide us the opportunity to go a little bit above and beyond the ability of the Legislature, and so I thought I’d walk you through just a couple programs.” The state’s endowment, overseen by the Land Board and the state Department of Lands, provides schools $32 million to $34 million year, Luna said. “So what do you get for $32 million to $34 million dollars?”

He pointed to the Idaho Space and Aerospace Scholars program, through which 500 Idaho students have now attended space camp and worked with NASA; state funding for all Idaho high school juniors to take the SAT and sophomores to take the PSAT; $16 million in performance pay for teachers this year through district leadership awards; advanced programs through which tens of thousands of students have earned college credit while still in high school this year; and the state’s math initiative.

“And while we’re always looking for more and I would encourage you to continue to pursue to find ways to increase the distribution, I would just thank you for your dedication to this fund and to this endowment and the good that it’s brought to Idaho kids,” Luna said, “and here’s the evidence.”

Land Board receives final report on endowment mix that disfavors commercial property investments

Idaho’s state Land Board accepted the final version of a consultant’s report today on the asset allocation of the state’s endowment investments, including both land and financial investments; it found that timber land is an excellent investment for the endowment, grazing land is just marginal, and individual commercial properties in Idaho are not a good investment for the endowment. “It’s the concentration issue, the lack of diversity,” explained consultant Janet Becker-Wold of Callan and Associates. “If something happens to that property, then your whole portfolio can suffer.” To be a good investment for the state’s $1.8 billion-plus endowment, she said, “You either have to do it bigger and more diversified, or just don’t do it at all.”

The board is scheduled to discuss how to respond to the consultant’s reporting at its December meeting. “This is exactly what we have been needing in order to help us fulfill our fiduciary duty,” said Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. “It certainly gives us a record that we can use and sustain our decision-making.” Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said, “I think we’re going to have a good, positive blueprint forward, and a lot of that will be fleshed out in our December meeting. It was time to have a look.”

Ysursa said the consultant’s analysis will help the state look at the whole endowment, rather than considering each piece of it separately – the timber land, the investment fund, etc. “The whole idea was to get a study of the entire scenario,” he said. “We called time-out on commercial … over a year ago to examine that, get independent verification and expertise. … We were headed into areas where we didn’t have expertise.”

Investments into some Idaho commercial properties, including a mini-storage business, raised concerns from critics including some state lawmakers about competing with private businesses in Idaho. A legislative interim committee is now examining the issue; the consultants presented the report to that panel on Friday.

Ysursa said, “We’re good at timber – we’re in the market, we’ve been doing it for years.” As for grazing land, of which the endowment owns plenty but the study found only marginal returns, Ysursa said the state is in the midst of a long-term study of grazing fees that could help chart a new direction.   

Earnings from the state endowment largely benefit public schools; the Land Board is required by the state Constitution to manage the endowment for maximum long-term returns. The consultant’s analysis found that timber land is a good balance for the volatility of the endowment’s financial investments, and that the overall allocation of the endowment’s assets is appropriate. It recommended “prudent divestment” over time of the commercial real estate holdings.

Land Board sets more cabin-site auctions over the next three years

Idaho’s state Land Board has approved a plan to auction off at least 60 cabin sites at Priest and Payette lakes each year for the next three years. That’s beyond an already-scheduled auction set at Payette Lake for January for 36 cabin sites, six of them vacant. In August, the state auctioned off 59 lots at Priest Lake, with nearly all of them selling for appraised value to the people who had long leased the lots and built cabins on them.

The state endowment has been trying to gradually move out of the business of renting lots on which people build cabins or homes; the practice has led to years of legal fights over appropriate rents for the ground under the lakefront lots. Idaho’s Land Board is required by the state Constitution to manage the endowment lands for maximum long-term returns to the endowment.

The lots selected for each year’s auctions would be randomly selected from among those eligible, state Lands Department real estate services bureau chief Kate Langford told the board. Denny Christenson, president of the Priest Lake State Lessees Association, said the plan doesn’t give lessees any certainty as to whether or when they’ll be eligible to participate in an auction; he called for instead auctioning 80 Priest Lake lots each year for the next three years. That would bring the most money to the public school endowment the soonest, Christenson said. State Lands Department Director Tom Schultz said the Land Board could add additional lots in subsequent years if it chose. “We are trying to bring you a package we can deliver on,” he said. The board agreed to look into a way to schedule all eligible leased lots for future auctions so lessees know what’s coming.

Christenson also told the board that his term as president of the lessees’ association is nearly up, and the new president will be former Congressman George Nethercutt, R-Wash.

Consultants: Timber land a good investment for Idaho’s endowment, but not Idaho commercial real estate

Idaho’s state Land Board today heard an extensive report from a consulting firm, Callan and Associates, on the asset allocation and governance of the state endowment’s assets, whose earnings largely benefit public schools. Among the findings: Timber land is an excellent investment for Idaho’s endowment, and balances the volatility of the endowment’s financial investments. But Idaho commercial real estate is not. The consultants are recommending “prudent divestment” over time from the endowment’s commercial real estate holdings.

When analyzed on the basis of earnings potential, rather than on land appraisals, timber land currently is 39 percent of the endowment’s assets, the review found. “What you have now is good,” Janet Becker-Wold of Callan and Associates told the Land Board. In fact, financial models would support increasing that to 49 percent, she said, though that might not be practical.  

Grazing land, on the other hand, is a “marginal investment,” Becker-Wold said, with “a fairly low expected rate of return.” She said, “You can see that what you do on grazing, in the scheme of asset allocation, it doesn’t move the needle.” Grazing land is only 2 percent of the endowment’s assets when analyzed on the basis of earnings potential, the Callan review found. “And yet in terms of land holding, it’s very large,” Attorney General Lawrence Wasden noted.

Stocks and bonds are “good complements” to the endowment's land investments, Becker-Wold said, and the endowment’s current asset allocation is “appropriate.”

As far as commercial real estate, the review found that Idaho commercial real estate is not a good investment for the endowment. A case could be made that up to 5 percent of assets could be invested in professionally managed commercial real estate assets – not in Idaho but nationwide or global, the review found, and not property by property. No good case could be made for enlarging the endowment’s current investments into Idaho commercial real estate.

The recommendation for Idaho’s current commercial real estate holdings: “Prudent divestment,” Becker-Wold said. There should be “no fire sales,” she said, and “no hurry to get out of it,” as returns are “actually very good” at this point. But, she said, “From a broad investment perspective, we think a more diversified portfolio makes sense.” The review still is being finalized; the final version is scheduled to be submitted to the Land Board on Nov. 18.

Land Board votes unanimously to transfer Tamarack lease, clears way for ski season

Idaho’s state Land Board has voted unanimously, 5-0, to assign the state land lease for Tamarack Resort to the new owners, New TRAC, allowing the group to begin preparations for the upcoming ski season; the group acquired the resort in a sheriff’s bankruptcy sale in March. It will pay the $278,000 annual lease payments to the state, marking one of the state endowment’s most lucrative land leases; if the land were allowed to revert to timber harvest, the state’s endowment would make about $80,000 a year from it.

Among the requirements the state is placing on the new owners: New TRAC will have 10 years to complete and open the unfinished mid-mountain lodge, or remove it and reclaim the area. It will be required to either replace the removed Wildwood Lift, which was removed by creditors, or remove the concrete pads and reclaim the area. It will have until Dec. 31, 2019, to pay all current and back property taxes to Adams and Valley counties, which come to roughly $250,000, along with satisfying all penalties and interest and keeping current on future taxes. New TRAC also will pay an assignment fee of $32,795 to take over the lease, and assume all the rights and obligations of the previous Tamarack owners under the state lease. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Keith Ridler.

Land Board holding special meeting on Tamarack lease…

Idaho's state Land Board is holding a special meeting this morning, and the sole item on the agenda is assignment of the lease for Tamarack Resort. The board's currently in a closed executive session, but must reconvene in open session to make any decision. The assignment of the lease to a new ownership group dubbed New TRAC could be a turning point for the financially troubled ski resort near Donnelly; operators hope to run the ski lifts seven days a week in the upcoming season, rather than just four. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Keith Ridler.

The reason for the special meeting: The lease assignment otherwise would have been considered at the next regular Land Board meeting on Oct. 28, but New TRAC said that wouldn't give it the time it needs to gear up for the upcoming ski season, including hiring, marketing, pre-season pass sales, and brush-cutting and building and chairlift maintenance on the mountain. The resort expects to hire 150 to 160 people for the ski season, New TRAC project manager David Papiez told the Land Board in a Sept. 18 letter, and needs to get started now; that's 30 to 40 more employees than it had when the lifts ran only four days a week. 

Land Board to consider new lease for Tamarack Resort, possible new chapter for troubled ski area

Tamarack Resort could take a significant step toward a clearer financial picture Thursday when Idaho officials decide whether to transfer a ski area lease to a new company that emerged after a sheriff's bankruptcy sale last spring, the AP reports. But first a majority of the five-member Idaho Land Board will have to be persuaded at the special meeting that Tamarack can afford about $278,000 annually to use the 2,100 acres of state-owned land the ski area is built on overlooking Cascade Lake. The lease represents one of the state's more lucrative deals, writes AP reporter Keith Ridler; it's far more than the estimated $80,000 annually the land would generate if it reverted to timber harvest.

Land Board approves $1.5M increase in endowment payout to schools next year

Idaho’s state Land Board has voted unanimously in favor of recommendations for distributions to the state endowment beneficiaries – the largest of which is public schools – that include only a small increase for schools. In fiscal year 2016, public schools would receive a $1.5 million increase in its endowment payment to $32.8 million. That’s a 4.7 percent increase; the state’s other, smaller endowments would see larger, 8.7 percent increases, except for one that would stay even, based on its reserve levels. Higher earnings in the other funds also would lead to a transfer from reserves to the permanent fund of $38.6 million.

Larry Johnson, investment manager for the state endowment fund, said if Idaho were to distribute its target of 5 percent of the permanent fund to schools in 2016, that’d be $40 million. But that level would cut too far into reserves, he said, which are targeted to cover five years of payouts.

New forecasts, however, show schools likely would be in for larger increases in payouts in subsequent years, Johnson told the Land Board. In fiscal year 2017, the public school payout likely would rise to $39 million, and in fiscal 2018, to $44 million. “I think the outlook going forward is very positive,” Johnson said. Among factors leading to that positive outlook are “the amount of timber that’s been pre-sold that we know is going to flow into the public school.”

State schools Superintendent Tom Luna questioned whether the state would ever get to those higher payouts, given its policy of having five years of reserves on hand to cover payouts of 5 percent of the permanent fund each year. If the permanent fund keeps growing, it’d be harder and harder to get up to five years’ worth of reserves, he noted, because that 5 percent figure would keep rising. Johnson said the distributions still would rise each year, though, to one-fifth of whatever is in the reserve at that point.   

The point of the five years of reserves, he said, is that the payouts to the beneficiaries – including schools – would continue without reduction even in years when earnings are off. “We believe this is a conservative forecast,” Johnson said. Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News has a full report here.

Comparing state endowment’s take from yesterday’s auction to cabin-site rents…

At yesterday’s auction of state-owned Priest Lake cabin sites at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, many in the crowd were wondering if the state really was getting a better deal for the state’s schoolchildren – the beneficiaries of the Priest Lake state endowment lands – by divesting itself of the cabin sites. The 59 cabin-site renters are currently being charged rent at 4 percent of appraised value for the ground under their cabins, which came to a total this year of $1,070,857.

Last night, the state endowment’s take from the auction was $26,903,812. That’s more than 25 years’ worth of rent that it collected in a single night, at today’s rental rates. In the past year, the rent collected on the properties was actually significantly less, somewhere around $700,000, as the appraisals, on which the rents are based, were still in the process of going up. At that rate, last night’s take from the auction was a little over 38 years’ worth of rent payments.

As far as what Idaho’s endowment does with cash, its permanent endowment fund – the cash – is invested in the market and last year made a whopping 18.8 percent return. In the past five years, the cash fund has made an average of 14.7 percent a year; in the past 10 years, the average gain was 8.5 percent. Looking ahead, fund managers predict an average annual gain of 6.5 percent.

Aside from the cash, the state endowment’s biggest money-maker is its timber land. Last year, a record-high timber harvest of 347 million board-feet resulted in $53.5 million in profits for the endowment; the increased harvest was due in part to salvage logging of trees damaged by wildfires and insects. All cottage site rents statewide – the state started the year with 354 lakefront cabin sites at Priest Lake and 167 at Payette Lake, but has started selling them off now – came to a net of $4.2 million. Grazing land pulled in a paltry $775,000 after expenses. Oil and gas leases brought in $1.066 million for the endowment, a relatively new revenue source.

Idaho has now sold 95, or almost one-fifth, of its 534 cottage site lots at Priest Lake and Payette Lake. Plans call for another 36 lots at Payette Lake to be auctioned later this year, with the idea of shifting to assets with a better rate of return for the endowment.

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa called the Priest Lake auction “a step in the right direction for the state of Idaho,” saying, “We’re implementing a decision of the Land Board to the benefit of Idaho’s public schools while providing resolution for many families eager to move on from leasing the land beneath their homes.”

People filtering in at CdA Resort for Priest Lake cabin-site auction…

People are filtering in to the Coeur d’Alene Resort ballroom where today’s auction of 59 cabin sites at Priest Lake is set to kick off at 1 p.m. Pacific time. Steven Hubbs, 68, who’s here to bid for the ground under the lakefront cabin he’s had for the last 15 years, is among the bidders looking through a thick packet of information on the various cabin sites. Asked what he thinks of the process, Hubbs, who lives in California, said, “It seems fair. I think a lot of the older people that have owned cabins on the lake for a long time, I think they’re at a disadvantage – I don’t think they’re being treated fairly. But for people who bought recently, I think it’s fair.”

I’ve spoken with several other cabin-site lessees who weren’t willing to talk on the record, and are visibly angry over the process. The starting price for the lots, which is set at the appraised value, ranges from $200,000 to $665,000. If someone other than the existing lessee gets the high bid, that person would also have to pay the existing lessee appraised value for the improvements on the land, including the cabin.

The growing crowd here includes some who are here just to watch, including some who also have Priest Lake cabins on state ground but aren't up for auction today.

Thursday will see 59 Priest Lake cabin sites on auction block at CdA Resort

With a complex auction coming up Thursday for 59 state-owned lakefront cabin sites on Priest Lake, the state Department of Lands has released a fact sheet about how the whole thing will work; you can see it here. Among the highlights: The 59 lots – down from the 62 announced in July, as several have dropped out – have been divided randomly into four groups, with a quarter assigned to each, and groups have been scheduled for auction at 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Each group is expected to take less than an hour.

Anyone who’s not the existing lessee and wants to bid on one of the lots must submit a $50,000 cashiers check ahead of time; if that person is the successful bidder, that $50,000 will be credited against the cost of the improvements on the property, for which the winning bidder must pay the existing lessee at appraised value. Existing lessees don’t have to put up the $50,000 because they already own the improvements.  There also are various fees that the winning bidder will have to pay.

The auction, which follows two earlier ones of state-owned cabin sites at Payette Lake, comes as the state Land Board has decided to get the state out of the business of renting lake lots on which people build and own their cabins, leading to years of battles about the appropriate fair-market rent to charge for the ground under the cabins. It’s the first of what’s expected to be a series of auctions for Priest Lake lots. Proceeds from the auction will go to Idaho’s public school endowment fund. This initial group consists of lots whose lessees had attempted to join land exchanges that were cancelled; they voluntarily agreed to the auction instead.

The auction will be for the lots, not including the value of the buildings on them. Starting bids are set at the appraised value, which ranges from $200,000 to $665,000. Information on all the properties is online here; the terms and conditions of sale are online here. The auction starts Thursday at 1 p.m. Pacific time at the Coeur d’Alene Resort.

Idaho readies for boost to endowment from cabin site auctions…

Idaho’s state endowment is expecting to make at least $30 million later this month from an auction of state-owned cabin sites on Priest Lake - an estimate state officials call “conservative” - and another $13 million from another auction at Payette Lake in December. Currently, proceeds from sales of state endowment land go into a Land Bank Fund for up to five years, where they can be used for other land acquisitions; after that time, they transfer to the permanent endowment.

A subcommittee of the Land Board looking at the issue reported today that the Land Bank currently has a $12.5 million balance, and while the Department of Lands is looking at possible purchases of timber land and road right-of-way, none of those purchases are likely to occur within the next four months. Funds in the Land Bank are invested by the state treasurer as part of the state’s idle pool, where they earn about 0.4 percent interest annually. But the permanent endowment fund last year made 18 percent in investment earnings.

“We certainly know that there will be some money coming into the Land Bank in amounts that really should be sent into the permanent funds,” said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who chairs the subcommittee. So the Land Board voted unanimously today to transfer the current $12.5 million balance from the Land Bank Fund to the permanent endowment. The board also voted to consider consultants’ analyses at its December meeting on how to handle future balances in the Land Bank fund and when to make transfers, including possibly limiting the land bank fund to $10 million, with all proceeds above that going directly to the permanent endowment fund.

State facing ‘very difficult, very expensive fire season so far’

Firefighting costs for the Idaho Department of Lands are up significantly this year, the state Land Board was told this morning, coming to $24.4 million to date. An estimated $2.1 million of those costs will be reimbursed to the state Lands Department from other agencies, for a net cost of about $22.34 million. That’s far above the 20-year average of about $7.5 million. The reason: Though this hasn’t been the worst fire season statewide, more than a quarter of the fires have been on land for which the state has fire-protection responsibility. “As a percentage of the 200,000 acres being suppressed this year, we’re more than 25 percent of those,” said Tom Schultz, state lands director.

Two years ago, wildfires in the state were far more extensive, but burned largely on federally protected land.

“It has been a very active fire season for the Department of Lands on our protection districts,” state forester David Groeschl told the board. “We’ve had a lot of fire activity.” Four fires required Type 2 management teams in the past two weeks, he said; all are now contained. “Mop-up is occurring on those,” Groeschl said. The largest, the Big Cougar Fire, has burned 65,000 acres. The state’s costs include $1.8 million for fixed aircraft costs for the season.

“As of right now, August is predicted to be warmer than normal with normal precipitation, which isn’t much for August,” Groeschl said. “Given those predictions, we expect still a very active fire season right now. We’ve got some recent precipitation which is good, helps slow things down right now, but we’ll see what happens throughout the rest of August and early September.”

Schultz said this year’s state firefighting price tag could end up four times the 20-year average, saying it’s been a “very difficult, very expensive fire season so far for us.”

Land Board members laud record earnings from both lands, endowment fund

The state Land Board, which consists of the state's top five elected officials and is chaired by the governor, has sent out an opinion piece to Idaho news media hailing the endowment's record earnings in the past year, from the record 18.8 percent return on investments in the endowment fund to a 14-year high of $102 million from state endowment lands. That included the take from a record 347 million board feet of timber that was logged from the endowment lands, part of it consisting of trees that had been damaged by wildfire or insects, and from a hotly bid-for $1 million lease to use state lands to recreate Evel Knievel’s 1974 attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon near Twin Falls. “Together with our state land managers and the fund managers who invest the revenues they work hard to generate, we’re showing Idahoans that active management of State endowment trust lands and prudent investment of financial assets benefit us all,” the board said in the piece; you can read it in full below.

Idaho's endowment chiefly benefits the state's public schools, which are the beneficiary for 85 percent of the state's endowment land. The other beneficiaries, which like the schools were designated at statehood, are the agricultural college (U of I); charitable institutions (a catch-all that includes Idaho State University, industrial training school, State Hospital North, Idaho veterans homes, and the School for the Deaf and Blind); normal school (covers ISU Department of Education and Lewis-Clark State College); penitentiary; school of science (U of I); mental hospital (State Hospital South); University of Idaho; and the Capitol endowment. 

Land Board sets auction for 36 more state-owned cabin sites on Payette Lake

Idaho auctioned off 13 state-owned cabin sites at Payette Lake in 2013, 10 of them previously leased and three vacant. Now, with the first such voluntary auction – cabin owners who rent the lots under their cabins can decide whether they want to participate – coming up at Priest Lake on Aug. 28, the state has approved a second round of auctions at Payette Lake for later this year.

The state Department of Lands has received applications from 30 Payette Lake cabin site renters who want to go to auction; it’s proposing putting those 30 plus six vacant sites up for auction. The state Land Board voted unanimously this morning to go ahead with the auction of the 36 lots, to be held in November or December.

At the first Payette auction, all 13 sites sold, with a total selling price of $5.88 million. The 10 previously leased lots all were purchased by the owners of the cabins on them; only one saw competitive bidding, pushing the price up to $11,000 above the appraised value, which is set as the minimum bid. The three vacant lots all saw competitive bidding. All three sold for more than their appraised values, with one appraised at $662,400 selling for $1 million.

Buoyed by strong earnings, state endowment fund hits record $1.7B

Idaho’s state endowment fund earned 18.8 percent on its investments in the past year, investment manager Larry Johnson told the state Land Board this morning. He said that’s the second-highest earnings year in its history; the fund is now worth $1.736 billion, a new record. The endowment fund’s earnings mainly benefit the state’s public schools, along with other institutions. The Endowment Fund Investment Board will meet in mid-August to finalize its recommendations on distributions to the schools and other beneficiaries in fiscal year 2016; that recommendation will come to the Land Board in September. Distributions to schools are likely to rise slightly, from $31.3 million a year to $31.5 million, now that reserves have reached the target level.

“Likely the fund will earn between 6 and 7 percent over the next 10 years,” Johnson said, saying he can’t promise a continuation of the recent very strong earnings. Over the past five years, the fund’s returns were 14.6 percent; over the past 10 years, 8.5 percent.

North Idaho judge upholds Priest Lake cabin-site appraisals

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho judge says the state can use its most recent appraisals to set lease payments and minimum bids for the sale of cabin sites around Priest Lake. A group of more than 70 lessees sued the state in April seeking to bar it from using the higher appraisal amounts. The lessees argued they had a constitutionally protected property right to renew their cottage site leases. The Bonner County Daily Bee reports ( District Judge Barbara Buchanan ruled Friday that the Supreme Court has made it clear the Idaho Constitution prohibits recognition of any property right in a lease of state endowment land. The court also ruled the state is obligated to manage the property for maximum long-term returns to the endowment's beneficiaries, including public schools.

You can read Buchanan’s full ruling here. Idaho Department of Lands spokeswoman Emily Callihan said the ruling leaves the department free to continue with its plans to sell a group of the cabin sites at public auction in late August, with the disputed appraisals serving as the minimum bid price.

Lawsuit challenges state-owned Priest Lake cabin site values

Seventy-six cabin owners on Priest Lake who rent the land under their cabins from the state of Idaho have filed a lawsuit, charging that the state is claiming ownership of improvements including access roads, utility lines and more that the renters actually installed with their own money. As a result, the latest appraisals for the state-owned cabin sites – which will be used both as minimum bids for possible public auctions and as the basis for future rents for continuing leases – have ballooned by up to 80 percent, they charge, pushing them out of many lessees’ price range.

“The appraisals are objectively wrong,” the cabin owners argue in court documents; they’re seeking an injunction to stop the state from using the new appraised values, and return to last year’s values plus a 1.6 percent inflationary increase. But the state says that would mean a loss to the state’s endowment, which benefits public schools, of nearly $2 million next year. You can read my full story here at

June rain, mountain snow promise to delay, shorten upcoming wildfire season

The rain that’s falling this morning in Boise – and the unseasonable June snow in the mountains – is actually very, very good news for Idaho’s upcoming fire season, according to a briefing the state Land Board received yesterday. “You shorten the window that’s available for your fire season,” Jeremy Sullens, wildland fire analyst for the National Interagency Fire Center, told the board. “So precipitation events in June … are a significant factor in decreasing the fire season.” Other good news: Cool temperatures have kept much of the state’s snowpack in place, and it’s “coming off the landscape more slowly … in large portions of Idaho. That’s going to provide a lot of moisture for fuels to take up. … Snowpack across the state looks very good at this point.” That combination means longer waits before higher-elevation timber wildfires can break out between now and the advent of wet weather in the fall, Sullens said, and is good news all around.

Plenty of precipitation earlier wasn’t necessarily as promising, because when it occurs during the seasonal “green-up,” it can spur more growth of grasses and other material that can later dry out and serve as fuels for wildfires. Forecasts call for Idaho to see slightly above-normal temperatures along with above-normal precipitation as it moves into summer, Sullens said. “So really, Idaho’s not looking too bad from a forecast perspective.” There are two exceptions, he noted: Areas with sage grouse habitat in southwestern Idaho, and areas in eastern Idaho that saw heavy fire activity last year, including the Hailey area. Those two spots are seeing more drought-like conditions than the rest of the state. Sullens said a “finger of drought runs up through there,” tied to the dryness that’s been experienced across Nevada and Utah.

Meanwhile, 250 ranchers across the state are now trained to help fight fires, as a result of the formation of five Rangland Fire Protective Associations. The ranchers get training and help with equipment to enable them to quickly jump on wildfires that start near them, before state or federal firefighters can get to the scene.

Gov. Butch Otter, who chairs the state Land Board, said at a recent Western Governors Association meeting he attended, other western governors expressed interest in the idea and want to emulate Idaho’s move.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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