In the news:
— Lewiston Morning Tribune
The proposed land swap in Northern Idaho that would trade 18,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service lands in three forests in Idaho for 40,000 acres owned by Western Pacific Timber in the upper Lochsa River basin had the early support of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, but the organization withdrew that support last week, citing concern of members and the expansion of the deal into elk habitat in Idaho County.
Few dispute the value of eliminating the checkerboard ownership in the upper Lochsa drainage to make it all managed by the national forests. The issue is complicated by the other scattered lands the public would have to give up in the exchange.
See more details on the Upper Lochsa Land Exchange.
Read on for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News report on the RMEF backout.
Elk Foundation pulls out of land exchange
By Brandon Macz
Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Moscow, Idaho
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Dec. 16—The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, an early proponent of the Upper Lochsa Land Exchange proposal, has withdrawn from it in protest of a proposal to keep the trading of land restricted to Idaho County.
”The identified federal exchange lands in Idaho County contain very high value wildlife habitat, including significant amounts of crucial winter range for elk, which could potentially be compromised,” a letter from M. David Allen, president and CEO of the foundation, states. ”Concern about loss of access, land use changes and habitat alterations in traditional hunting areas have also emerged as serious points of contention.”
The Upper Lochsa Land Exchange was initiated in 2008 between the U.S. Forest Service and Western Pacific Timber. It originally involved the exchange of 40,000 acres of Western Pacific lands interspersed with Forest Service lands near Lolo Pass for scattered parcels of national forest lands in Benewah, Bonner, Clearwater, Idaho, Kootenai and Latah counties.
Following a draft environmental impact statement released in November 2010 addressing several alternatives, Idaho County commissioners proposed swapping about 45,000 acres of federal lands in Idaho County for Western Pacific lands in the Upper Lochsa drainage — also in Idaho County. By keeping the swap within the county, Idaho County would avoid losing thousands of acres of land from its already meager property tax rolls.
The Forest Service released a supplemental draft environmental impact statement addressing the Idaho County proposal in November and has since held several meetings for public comment. The public comment period ends Jan. 17, but spokeswoman Teresa Trulock said the Forest Service plans to extend that by 30 days.
On Wednesday, Allen of the elk foundation sent a letter to Rick Brazell, Clearwater/Nez Perce Forest supervisor, and to Brian Disney, WPT land manager. In it, Allen says the foundation disagrees with the Idaho County proposal and believes it would have a negative effect on the foundation’s mission.
A message left for Blake Henning, RMEF vice president of lands and conservation, was not returned by press time Thursday.
”It’s really disappointing to us that they put so much time into this project and felt they needed to pull their support at this time,” said Trulock. ”If we acquire the Upper Lochsa, we think they would still be willing to show some support in helping to do some restoration work that would help with elk.”
Trulock said USFS has analyzed about 62,000 acres of land since beginning the exchange project, and while the Idaho County proposal was added into the mix, none of the alternatives have been dismissed.
”We still have all the other original alternatives on the table,” she said, adding Idaho County’s acre-for-acre proposal would require approval through Congress as USFS can only negotiate exchanges based on value-for-value.
”If we’re continuing down the road to making a decision within our authority, all of these (public) comments will help us make a better decision in the end,” she said.
Trulock said about 20 letters have been received with more expected closer to the deadline.
”It’s kind of like cramming for a test,” she said. ”You’re going to use all the time you have to comment to make sure you don’t miss anything.”
She said the letters will be reviewed collectively to allow the same level of consideration and better identify opinion patterns.
While RMEF states it will not be a principal to the project, it states in Allen’s letter, ”We stand ready to support decisions that align with our mission. In addition, we will support habitat restoration on affected lands.”
Brandon Macz can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 238, or by email to bmaczdnews.com.