POTLATCH, Idaho — Seven former administrators of the Palouse Ranger District are blasting a U.S. Forest Service plan to trade 28,000 acres of managed forest for about 39,000 acres of logged-over timber company land in northern Idaho.
John Krebs, a retired Forest Service employee, said the plan is fundamentally flawed because much of the public land has been carefully managed for the public’s use.
“The whole Palouse is prime,” he told The Lewiston Tribune. “It’s got old growth in it, riparian protection. It is the prime example of management. And the Forest Service has never told the public this story.”
Western Pacific Timber, a logging company based in Portland, Ore., is offering to trade land it owns that includes portions of the Lewis and Clark and Nez Perce National Historic Trails.
Krebs and the others have written letters to local and national officials detailing their concerns about the proposed Upper Lochsa Land Exchange.
Earlier this year, Krebs wrote a seven-page letter to Tom Reilly, supervisor on the Clearwater National Forest. The other retired foresters co-signed the letter.
“The public, whose land you manage in trust, is once again about to get the shaft from someone who is supposed to care for the land and serve the people,” the letter said.
And late last year they sent a letter to the Latah County commissioners stating, “Our clear and urgent concern is that the proposed Upper Lochsa Land Exchange will trigger the eventual loss of a significant amount of readily accessible public lands for the citizens of Latah and other surrounding counties.”
Krebs, 75, has turned his dining room into a command center, complete with maps, photos and displays of the proposed swap.
“It’s a lousy deal,” he said. “What’s going on here is the tip of the iceberg. If this exchange goes through, I’ll make a prediction: The Palouse will become reattached to the St. Joe National Forest, and the rest of the Palouse will just go. It will be exchanged.”
Krebs said much of the land came under management of the Forest Service decades ago after timber companies had harvested the valuable trees.
“After the companies had taken the white pine off they didn’t want to pay taxes,” Krebs said. “So the Forest Service, in the late ’50s and early ’60s, began managing this land and made an honest-to-god silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
But now he said logging companies are looking at the land again as the timber on it is nearing a harvest date.
Forest Service officials last fall unveiled the portions of public land they are willing to trade for the heavily logged land in the Upper Lochsa River Basin belonging to Western Pacific Timber. Officials said that besides areas of historic significance, the land includes important fish and wildlife habitat.
Reilly has said the trade will eliminate some of the checkerboard pattern of public land in the region that makes it hard to manage.
The timber company is owned by lumberman and developer Tim Blixseth, who bought the land in 2005 from the Plum Creek Timber Co. and then announced he was interested in trading it for public land.
If the exchange goes through, Blixseth has said the land he obtains will be run as a tree farm for logging.
The Nez Perce Tribe and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have supported the trade because of the historic significance and good habitat that is contained in the Upper Lochsa River Basin.
By law, exchanges of federal for private land must be of equal value.