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Giving up too much of a good thing?

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Giving up too much of a good thing?

Planned land exchange concerns some area residents

A land exchange that will affect the use of more than 5,000 acres of Forest Service land in the Panhandle could be ready for public comment this fall.

In the meantime, a local group wants to make sure the public is informed of the exchange.

The exchange between the Forest Service and parties responsible for the demise of the multi-million-dollar Yellowstone Club in Montana includes parcels of land from Priest River to Mullan and at least 1,200 acres bordering McCroskey State Park near DeSmet.

Opponents think that Western Pacific Timber LLC—owned by Tim Blixseth of the infamous $375 million Yellowstone Club bankruptcy—will build homes on the land it gets from the Forest Service in exchange for almost 40,000 acres of former Plum Creek ground in the Upper Lochsa of the Clearwater National Forest.

The remote Lochsa land has been clearcut, said opponent Kathy Judson of Tensed, while the 28,212 acres of Forest Service land that could be deeded to Western Pacific Timber is prime forest land bordering parks, towns or other high value real estate.

Judson, who belongs to a group called Friends of the Palouse Ranger District, thinks the Forest Service has failed to keep the public informed about the exchange that could influence the use of land in their backyards.

“People don’t know there is a land exchange,” she said. “The Forest Service has done a horrible job informing the public. The public needs to know where it is, and what we lose.”

Land named in the exchange includes 57 acres at Rose Lake, 320 acres near Mullan, 3,737 in southern Benewah and northern Latah counties including land surrounding McCroskey State Park and Crane Point to West Dennis, as well as 1,100 acres along Highway 41 and 55 acres at Athol, according to FPRD.

 “Everybody in the community needs be concerned,” said Judson. “It is going to directly affect all of us and set a precedence for more land exchanges to continue. We need to stop it from happening and send a clear picture that it’s not appropriate.”

Teresa Trulock, Forest Service natural resource specialist on the Clearwater National Forest, said the public will get a chance to weigh in on the proposal within the next few months.

The agency collected comments last winter that were used to sketch alternatives in the draft environmental impact statement that will be released in October. The statement will include several options. Once released, the public has 45 days to choose which alternative—including one called “no action”—is in the best interest of the forest.

The draft was supposed to be released earlier, she said, but some of the work hasn’t been completed.

“We still need to get some of the field work done,” Trulock said.

The Forest Service was approached by Western Pacific several years ago with a proposal to trade the Plum Creek Ground near Montana’s Lolo Pass for land near McCall, but the Forest Service declined, she said.

The timber company then asked for land in northern Idaho around Pend Oreille Lake, but that was also turned down. Instead, the agency asked supervisors to inventory property that was similar to the Plum Creek ground and compile it for a possible land exchange.

Foresters from throughout the Clearwater as well as the Panhandle National Forest took chunks of land used for timber production and added it to land that might be considered in the trade, she said.

The Forest Service considered the exchange, she said, because the Plum Creek ground, intermingled with Forest Service land, was part of a real estate trust that allowed the land to be parceled and sold to the highest bidder.

If the agency retained the Plum Creek land, it could be more easily managed for fire and timber than small swatches spread across the map.

In addition, the Forest Service, in its Notice of Intent published in the Federal Register, said these lands, “are of interest to the Forest Service because they encompass the headwaters of the Lochsa River and hold outstanding values for many fish and wildlife species. The... lands also hold significant cultural resources including the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail and Nez Perce Tribe treaty area.”

Brian Disney, a spokesman for the timber company, said that Western Pacific has no plans to develop the land it receives.

He said the company doesn’t want the land in McCroskey Park if it cannot be sold to the state, or exchanged for state land.

“We want that land to stay in the hands of a state agency, or be part of the park somehow,” said Disney.

The Portland-based company uses its land for timber management, he said, not to sell as real estate.

If the company cannot make a deal with the state over the McCroskey land, he said, it would prefer to take it out of the exchange.

“We don’t need all of that,” he said. “We can throw it out.”

Because of its owner’s track record, which includes multiple rural developments, Judson said, she is certain the land, once removed from the public domain, will be sold to developers.

She agrees with the Forest Service’s push to acquire the Plum Creek property, she said, but she opposes a land trade.

“None of us are opposed to getting that land,” she said. “We all agree that should be in public ownership, but not at the expense of what we have here.”

The 12 parcels in the Panhandle include 1,145 acres in Bonner County, 57 acres in Kootenai County and about 320 acres in Shoshone County, according to the Forest Service. It includes 16,000 acres in the Clearwater National Forest—with more than 10,000 acres surrounding the town of Elk City and 700 acres around Dworshak Reservoir and the Upper North Fork of the Clearwater River—10,700 acres in the Nez Perce National Forest and 1,500 acres in the Panhandle National Forest, said Trulock.

For more information on the exchange including maps, go here

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Ralph Bartholdt Ralph Bartholdt is a freelance writer and editor

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