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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Groups work together to protect basin

Taryn Brodwater Staff writer

Actress Patty Duke and Idaho Rep. Butch Otter are spearheading a fund-raising effort to help secure conservation easements to thousands of acres in the St. Joe River Basin.

The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit land conservation group, announced Thursday that the celebrity and the politician have signed on to increase public awareness of the project and help raise $400,000 to secure 23,000 acres in the latest phase of the multi-year project.

The funds, combined with about $700,000 from the Potlatch Corp. and other private donors, would fulfill the requirements of $3.5 million in federal Forest Legacy funds. To receive the federal grant money, the players in the conservation project must raise $1.1 million in matching funds.

Ultimately, the conservation easement will include more than 80,000 acres of working forest land in the St. Joe River Basin, belonging to Potlatch. The Trust for Public Land has been working with Potlatch to purchase the company’s right to develop or subdivide the land and keep the forests forever free to public access.

The 23,000 acres expected to be secured by fall will bring the total acreage of the project close to 50,000 acres.

At a press conference Thursday, Duke talked about how she was wooed by the beauty of North Idaho when her husband, an Idaho native, brought her to visit what he had described as God’s country.

Duke said she packed her bags and moved to North Idaho. She’s been here 15 years.

“I’m not a hunter or a fisherperson or any of those wildlife adventurer things,” Duke said. “I’m a breath-taker. It takes my breath away.”

She said she’s happy to be part of the project to help preserve public access to the land so her four granddaughters can also experience being “breath-takers,” too.

Mark Benson, director of public affairs for Potlatch, said there’s a growing demand nationwide to develop forestland, sell parcels to people so they can build second homes or lease land to hunting clubs or for other recreational uses.

He said Potlatch has chosen a different path in the St. Joe River Basin.

The partnership between Potlatch, the Trust for Public Land and the Idaho Department of Lands allows the company to manage the acreage as a working forest and maintain recreational opportunities, such as hiking and fishing, for the public.

Otter described the partnership between the private and public sectors as magic.

He said Idaho has the opportunity with the St. Joe River Basin project to have “bragging rights on one of the largest Forest Legacy projects in the United States.”

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