[Vision2020] More on the Upper Lochsa Land Exchange

Tom Hansen thansen at moscow.com
Sat Dec 18 07:20:04 PST 2010

Courtesy of today's (December 18, 2010) Moscow-Pullman Daily News.


Stewards of the land: How the Upper Lochsa Land Exchange might affect the
land on the Palouse
By [author]Christina Lords[/author] [org]Daily News Staff Writer[/org]
December 18, 2010

There are about 145,000 acres in the Palouse Ranger District - scattered
parcels that make up the U.S. Forest Service's land in Benewah, Clearwater
and Latah counties.

The PRD, with its ranger station in Potlatch, is one of the smallest
national forest ranger districts in North Idaho - and one of the most

This USFS land is fairly unusual because many of its parcels are
disconnected, or have tracts of private or state lands that disrupt its
borders, said USFS retiree John Krebs, who began working for the USFS in
the St. Joe National Forest in Idaho's panhandle in 1958.

"It fits the bill for lands that are managed for multiple use," he said.
"Multiple use deals with water, wildlife, wood, timber, recreation and
forage. All of those things are real prevalent on the Palouse because the
population centers are here."

Conversely, the North Fork, Powell and Lochsa ranger districts of the
Clearwater National Forest are made up of nearly all blocked-up national
forest land.

Latah County residents and former USFS retirees Krebs, Lonnie Way, Blake
Ballard and Irv Johnson have worked USFS land for a collective span of 122
years. For most of that time, they've worked here on the Palouse. They've
held the positions of fire management officer, timber management
assistant, forestry technician, database coordinator and others over their

"We've cared for the land and served the people," Krebs said. "We've
worked for rangers that have cared for the land who knew the land."

But over the last two years, they've worked with other concerned residents
- locally and statewide - to protect the management of those 145,000 acres
in a different way.

They've filed Freedom of Information Act requests and fielded countless
hours of phone calls from concerned friends and strangers alike. They've
provided written and oral testimony that the Upper Lochsa Land Exchange -
a project that could swap about 8,000 publicly owned PRD acres into
private ownership by Western Pacific Timber - isn't in the interest of the

Other interested parties, including officials from the USFS,
representatives from WPT and some residents would disagree.

"As a timber company, we are not interested in acquiring lands that the
public significantly uses," said Andy Hawes, general counsel for WPT. "As
a result of the public being involved in the process, the (USFS) dropped
original acreage that was on the table. What you have left are parcels
largely scattered and isolated."

The Upper Lochsa Land Exchange includes tracts in Latah, Idaho, Benewah,
Kootenai, Clearwater and Bonner counties in the Clearwater, Nez Perce and
Idaho Panhandle National Forests.

After two years of meeting with representatives of the USFS, WPT and state
officials and after the recent release of the land exchange's draft
environmental impact statement, the group of USFS retirees, members of
Friends of the Palouse Ranger District - a grassroots group formed to
oppose the exchange that is largely organized by Cheryl Halverson, Marilyn
Beckett and Kathy Judson - are more concerned than ever about the
implications of the exchange on the Palouse.

The Palouse's land

Ballard leans forward to trace a series of red dashes on a map of the PRD.
The map, a 1997 land adjustment plan created largely by four forest
service employees, is about three feet long and thumbtacked to two cork

It details the land tracts owned by the state, private entities and USFS
within the district.

The dashes encircle areas of national forest the PRD wants to consolidate
in exchange for forest land scattered outside of those areas but that are
still within the district, he said.

To the retirees, the map visually spells out the future of the USFS land
on the Palouse.

While not a legally binding document, it was designed as a preferred
outline to consolidate tracts of land within the PRD - an outline largely
ignored by USFS officials when deciding which PRD lands would be included
in the exchange, Ballard said.

The USFS prefers a combined land exchange and three-year purchase
agreement where about 14,100 acres of national forest would be exchanged
for about 39,300 acres of WPT land in the Upper Lochsa, said Teresa
Trulock, the USFS's project coordinator.

The exchange also faces four other options, from no action to an outright
purchase of the WPT land.

The public may provide comments to the USFS on the exchange's options
until Feb. 23.

In the USFS's preferred option, about 8,000 acres in the PRD would go to WPT.

"We looked at the best mix of land that we could given what we had,"
Trulock said. "We also have to look beyond just this forest district ...
This is what made sense."

Trulock said while it is important to consider implications on the PRD,
the exchange also must reflect what is best for the national forest as a

But Ballard said in the preferred option, about half of those 8,000 acres
come from parcels that are within, not outside of, the consolidation areas
of the PRD's Land Adjustment Plan.

WPT would receive about 2,610 acres of national forest lands in Latah
County in the USFS's preferred option, about 1,400 fewer acres than
originally proposed. About 2,230 acres would be traded from Benewah
County, and the remaining 3,200 acres in the PRD would be traded from
Clearwater County.

The PRD would gain no acreage in the exchange.

Since 1977, Ballard said the PRD had already experienced one land exchange
to reacquired lands that had previously been exchanged out of. The
adjustment plan would help to provide a long-term vision to keep that from
happening again, he said.

A perceived threat

The loss of those 8,000 acres could have long-term consequences for the
PRD's future, if the district has one at all, Ballard said.

"We have been fearful that the (PRD) would be obliterated," Krebs said.
"It's the smallest district in the region."

Trulock and other USFS officials have stressed throughout the exchange
that the district has, and will continue to have, a fundamental role in
the management of the Clearwater. The scattered nature of the acres is a
reason to keep the district, not get rid of it, because management from
any other district would be more difficult than keeping the PRD in place,
she said.

"We have said publicly that we don't see a time where that district would
not be needed in Potlatch," she said. "There's a smaller number of acres
there (than other districts), but that doesn't mean it isn't a viable

The retirees said they fear the decisions made for larger projects in the
forest, such as the land exchange, are now decided from higher ranking
officials, and not from the support of employees who work the land day in
and day out.

"This stuff is coming from the top down, instead of from down on the
ranger district up," Way said. "There are those that insinuate that the
Palouse Ranger District almost initiated this exchange ... that we had
designated lands that we felt were disposable for this exchange. Nothing
could be further from the truth."

Trulock said the USFS has met with, and will continue to meet with,
current and past Forest Service employees to address their concerns and
make an exchange that is in the best interest of the public and the

Here vs. there

The checkerboard lands that make up the Upper Lochsa create about 250
miles of boundary line that requires surveying, marking and posting.
Administering those acres, as well as managing the road systems found
within the Lochsa lands, requires time, management and money, Trulock

There's only one current fire management strategy for lands Upper Lochsa,
Trulock said.

"We want to be able to manage landscape as whole, not just as arbitrary
lands on the ground," she said. "Right now, our only choice if there's a
fire is to go in and put it out."

Blocking up the Upper Lochsa will provide a stabilized habitat for many
different kinds of species, including providing more a comprehensive
habitat for threatened steelhead and bull trout, as well as habitats for
elk and Canada lynx.

But when people say blocking up those areas doesn't affect them, Trulock
said many people don't realize how the exchange might affect one of the
region's most critical resources - water.

Because the headwaters of so many of the county's water sources are
located in national forests, the USFS has made it a priority to protect
and manage those land areas, she said.

"To preserve, protect and maintain those waters is very important for us
as a nation," Trulock said. "Though right now the upper reaches of the
Clearwater (River) in the Upper Locsha are clean, we want to keep them

Hawes said although the USFS would gain lands in the Upper Locsha, the
exchange has positive implications for Latah County.

"When you look at the Latah County Comprehensive Plan, it says one of the
county's goals is to promote agricultural and forestry industries," he
said. "The No. 1 advantage in this exchange for the Palouse and Latah
County is the opportunity to have more inventories for timber business."

Because of strict rules that regulate logging on USFS lands, the Forest
Service is unable to be as competitive in the industry as it once was,
Hawes said.

Contractors, mill workers and truckers in areas like Potlatch, Deary, Troy
and other areas in the PRD make a living working with privately owned
timber companies, he said.

"We don't own any mills," Hawes said. "We will hire local contractors and
sell to local mills ... this is significant because we can provide a boost
in those areas."

Ballard said many people understand and support the advantages of blocking
up the lands in the Upper Locsha, but many residents here don't want to
see the public lands that are closer to their homes rolled into private

The retirees said the good stewardship of the USFS land on the Palouse has
been a hallmark of their careers.

That's why they're so vigilant during this process, Way said.

Simply, "It's the right thing to do."


Seeya round town, Moscow.

Tom Hansen
Moscow, Idaho

"The Pessimist complains about the wind, the Optimist expects it to change
and the Realist adjusts his sails."

- Unknown

More information about the Vision2020 mailing list