[Vision2020] Lochsa land swap plan draws more fire

Moscow Cares moscowcares at moscow.com
Wed Dec 30 02:48:18 PST 2015

Courtesy of today's (December 30, 2015) Lewiston Tribune.

Lochsa land swap plan draws more fire
Idaho County Commission draws an earful from area residents opposed to proposed exchange of lands
GRANGEVILLE - The Idaho County commissioners met Tuesday with "a solid wall of opposition" to the proposed land exchange in the upper Lochsa between the U.S. Forest Service and Western Pacific Timber Co.
About 35 people packed the commissioners' meeting room at the Idaho County Courthouse during a meeting to discuss the swap proposal and expressed their mistrust of the timber company, as well as their belief the commissioners are selling out to the company's interests.
"You're ignoring what the public wants," said Rob Groom of Grangeville. "This is not what we want to happen with these lands."
The problem, added Jim Jeffery of Grangeville, "is private ownership (of land) is the ultimate lockout."
He went on to describe huge tracts of lands on the Joseph Plains in western Idaho County that have sold in recent years to what he called "Texas billionaires." Those landowners - unlike other county landowners who he said have allowed people to hunt and recreate on their property - disallow public access.
"I don't have any say with these Texas billionaires," Jeffery said. "Stop trying to trade off our public land."
The highly controversial Lochsa land swap proposes trading about 39,000 acres of private timber ground near Lolo Pass for about 23,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land of similar value near Grangeville. A proposal written by the timber company was the subject of widespread opposition during a meeting last month in Grangeville.
The commissioners offered their own proposal, which keeps all the land in Idaho County, after a task force two years ago failed to come up with an alternative plan. Instead, the task force voted against any trade - an option Commissioner Skip Brandt has said is like moving to the back of the bus and letting the timber company and the agency drive all the decisions.
"My greatest fear," Brandt said Tuesday, is that an environmental group, such as the Nature Conservancy, will buy the Lochsa land from the timber company and then deed it over to the Forest Service, thereby removing it from the county tax rolls.
"I cannot let that happen," Brandt said. "We have to put an exchange together if we want to control it."
Brandt said he opposes the federal government having more ownership of Idaho County and said the Forest Service locks the public out of land access far more than private landowners. About 85 percent of the county's land base is already owned by the government.
After remaining silent throughout most of the meeting, Commissioner Mark Frei, elected last year, was asked about his stance on the issue.
"My stance is that I'm neutral," Frei said. He explained that when he campaigned last year for election he stated his support for the decision of the task force, which opposed any transaction. Frei said he also campaigned on a pro-business platform and backs economic expansion in the county.
Since then, however, he's learned more about the county's reliance on payment-in-lieu-of-taxes and Secure Rural Schools Act funds and the precarious nature of federal support.
"We need to start moving this county in a direction away from the federal government or we're going to be in a world of hurt," Frei said. Industry-based economics is more reliable, he said, than depending on tourism and recreation.
Several people in the audience scoffed at that notion.
"We need to diversify our economy," said one woman, including encouraging more recreation.
Others in the room said they have no confidence in the easements the timber company has granted in the proposed exchange, which would guarantee public access and assure that land acquired by the company would not be sold for future development after timber was harvested.
Commission Chairman Jim Chmelik said he does not have any qualms about the company's intention to honor the proposed easements. And he backed Frei's assertion that industry development would build a stronger economy than continuing to rely on government support.
"You seem very willing to cater to WPT," said Shelley Dumas, a Grangeville city councilor. "There is a huge, huge trust issue."
Chmelik said there will be future discussions about the proposal and promised the commissioners will be transparent in whatever negotiations take place.
Chmelik said he is trying to look out for the interests of the people of Idaho County and "if we can convince WPT, we would like to find different land," to offer in the trade.


Seeya 'round town, Moscow, because . . .

"Moscow Cares" (the most fun you can have with your pants on)
Tom Hansen
Moscow, Idaho
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