Wildlife managers have snared a prime piece of real estate above Hayden Lake for continued use by moose, bear, elk and other critters.
The acquisition should also help protect the lake’s water quality.
“That whole hillside is a wetland forest,” said Katherine Cousins, a mitigation biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “If you drain the hillside and build on it you would dry up the wetlands.”
The wetlands’ filtration acts like a set of kidneys for Hayden Lake, which has no natural outlet. If the hillside was developed, nutrient-rich runoff could contribute to algae growth in the lake. The land also contains a tributary stream to Hayden Creek, which provides important spawning and rearing habitat for Hayden Lake’s cutthroat population.
The 203-acre parcel at the lake’s northeast corner was initially slated for a 25-lot subdivision. But the wetlands complicated the developers’ plans, and demand for luxury homes receded during the recession. So, Tall Pines Lakeview Estates LLC agreed to sell the parcel to the federal government.
In a sale expected to close today, the Bonneville Power Administration will buy the land and deed it to Idaho Fish and Game. The property is appraised at $1.75 million. A partner in the LLC did not respond to a request for comment.
BPA Manager Lee Watts said his agency is buying the land as mitigation for wildlife habitat flooded by the construction of Albeni Falls Dam in the 1950s. The dam impounds Lake Pend Oreille and the Pend Oreille River.
Part of the land’s value is its connectivity to other protected parcels, Cousins said. The parcel lies adjacent to the Idaho Panhandle National Forest and a 300-acre private ranch protected through a conservation easement.
Cousins hopes that putting the 203 acres into public ownership will encourage other private landowners to consider conservation easements, which limit future development through deed restrictions.
Karen Hayes and her husband, Daniel, own 100 acres to the west of the parcel.
“The neighbors are thrilled about the acquisition and grateful to the developers for moving ahead at this time,” she said.
Hayes said she and other neighbors were concerned about the earlier plans to subdivide the property. The hillsides are steep and the fine soil is highly erodible.
“It’s either like talcum powder or it’s like concrete,” she said. “When it’s wet, it’s like grease. … It’s not a good place to be building a house.”
Twelve years ago, Hayes and her husband built a settling pond on their property to capture runoff from the surrounding hillsides. The pond helps keep algae-fertilizing runoff out of the lake, she said.
Hayden Lake is sometimes described as a “kettle lake” because it doesn’t have an outflow stream, said Todd Walker, lake manager for the Hayden Lake Watershed Association.
“Everything that goes into it stays,” he said. “It’s not like Lake Coeur d’Alene, which refreshes its water each year.”
The lake association encourages property owners to adopt land practices that will reduce the nutrients flowing into Hayden Lake. Water quality problems are most noticeable in the lake’s shallow bays. Boat owners complain about slime developing on the boat hulls, Walker said.
“Old-timers who live here say the (water clarity) isn’t what it used to be,” he said.