June 22, 2010 in Idaho

Developer proposes swap for N. Idaho timberland

M3 Companies offering up 12,000-acre ranch in Boise Foothills
By The Spokesman-Review
 

An Arizona developer is proposing a land swap that would trade about 8,000 acres of federal timberland in North Idaho for a ranch in the Boise Foothills.

M3 Companies, the developer, plans to build a residential community near Eagle, Idaho. As part of its land acquisition, the company wants 973 acres of Bureau of Land Management property adjacent to a state highway.

In exchange, M3 Companies is offering a 12,000-acre ranch that provides elk winter range and adjoins other public lands. If the deal goes through, the swap would create nearly 36 contiguous miles of public lands in the Boise Foothills, an important wildlife and recreation area. But since the ranch is more valuable than the 973 acres of BLM property, M3 Companies is asking for additional BLM timberlands in North Idaho, said Joe Hinson, an M3 consultant.

Under the proposal, M3 Companies would sell the North Idaho timberlands to Idaho Forest Group, a timber company. Idaho Forest Group would log the land, but continue to allow public hunting and fishing access.

The BLM lands in North Idaho are mostly in Bonner County. Hinson said they’re steep, fragmented parcels that BLM identified as nonstrategic lands. Gary Cooper, BLM’s district manager in North Idaho, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The land swap is still in a conceptual phase. Hinson said the project would require an environmental analysis or a full-blown environmental impact statement to ensure that the lands traded are of equal value.

“The benefits to southern Idaho are obvious,” he added. “They’re a little more elusive in North Idaho.”

Hinson said he’s heard concerns that the land swap is a “North Idaho giveaway” to benefit residents of southern Idaho. To address those concerns, Idaho Forest Group is willing to put an easement on the land requiring public access in perpetuity, said Bob Boeh, a company vice president.

State Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, said she supports the swap for its economic development potential. Idaho Forest Group estimates that the BLM ground contains 80 million to 100 million board feet of timber.

“It frees up federal lands and puts them back on the tax rolls,” said Broadsword, who also backs provisions for continued public access to the land.

Terry Harris, executive director of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, said his organization is still reviewing the proposed swap. Trading off so much North Idaho timberland is a potential concern, he said.

“It seems to take a lot of public land out of public hands in North Idaho,” Harris said. “There are a lot of parcels proposed for trade. We’d want to understand each and every one of them.”


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