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Idaho forest land exchange boosts big game

Sun., Jan. 8, 2012

Hunters, hikers and wildlife should benefit from the Idaho Panhandle National Forests’ recent acquisition of Cabinet Mountains land just northeast of Lake Pend Oreille.

And people who prefer a forest backdrop to the lake, rather than subdivisions, will like it, too.

After years of negotiations and appraisals, the Sandpoint Ranger District closed the deal on Dec. 22 to exchange 996 acres of scattered parcels mostly in the Sagle area for 921 acres in Bonner County owned by Stimson Lumber.

The project, dubbed the Rising Cougar Land Exchange when the dealing started a decade ago, was renamed the Hope-Sagle Land Exchange.

“The parcels we acquired will help us tremendously in several areas,” said Erick Walker, Sandpoint District Ranger.

The land allows the Forest Service to look at providing a trailhead and access to Bee Top Trail 120, a route that leads to high ridges. The access had to be abandoned in the 1990s because of private land restrictions.

Grizzly bear management prescriptions will be easier to address across the district, since the acquisition adds 313 roadless acres to the existing Bee Top Roadless Area, he said.

The parcels the Forest Service exchanged with Stimson “are mostly isolated tracts, often surrounded by private lands, which are tough for us to administer,” Walker said.

The Forest Service had to pay Stimson Lumber $353,000 to balance the value of the land exchanged, he said. “Yet there will be a net gain in value to the public over time since it will cost less to administer one large parcel than dealing with scattered parcels,” he added.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation worked with the Forest Service for more than 10 years to help facilitate the deal, said Rance Block, RMEF lands director in Liberty Lake.

“It caught our attention because it’s high-quality winter range for elk and moose, it has good public access and the Forest Service requested our help,” he said.

The sportsman’s conservation group was able to solve mineral rights issues the Forest Service didn’t have funding to address, Block said.

“We helped financially with the closing costs and the public process,” he said.

Bonner County Sportsmen’s Association and Litehouse Foods also helped financially, said David Allen, RMEF president in Missoula.

“You can’t underestimate the value of protecting nearly a thousand acres of elk winter range in landscape around Lake Pend Oreille, where the minimal land available for ungulates during winter also is so valuable for development,” Block said.

“This exchange benefits wildlife, the land and generations of people in northern Idaho,” said Stimson Vice President Ray Jones. “Our company has been patient over the past 10 years to complete this exchange. Doing the ‘right thing’ just took a while to complete.”

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