[Vision2020] Risch won't push Lochsa land swap
moscowcares at moscow.com
Fri May 13 02:35:39 PDT 2016
Courtesy of today's (May 13, 2016) Lewiston Tribune.
Risch won't push Lochsa land swap
Senator says he sees no broad consensus on exchange
U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said Thursday he will not pursue legislation authorizing the proposed upper Lochsa land exchange because of stiff public opposition to the trade.
The announcement, made in a letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, brings to an end at least one chapter in the decade-long saga over the fate of the land at the headwaters of the Lochsa River basin.
Since 2014, Risch has been mulling a bill authored by Western Pacific Timber Co. that would swap about 39,000 acres of its land near Lolo Pass for Forest Service land east of Grangeville. The company, Idaho County and the Forest Service supported the proposed exchange. The federal agency would block up ownership of its land near Lolo Pass that now is mixed with private land in checkerboard pattern. The company would be able to manage its new land for timber harvest, and the county would protect its tax base while also reaping the benefits of more timber jobs.
But members of the public, especially those living closest to the federal land that was at risk of being privatized, vigorously opposed the exchange. Despite promises of conservation easements that would guarantee public access and forbid development of the timberland, people said the exchange would lead to fences, no-trespassing signs and a loss of their favorite close-to-home hunting, camping and berry picking spots.
Risch held a public meeting in Grangeville last November at which most speakers voiced opposition to the exchange. Following the meeting, 97 percent of the public comments submitted to Risch were against the trade.
In his letter, Risch said he believes the checkerboard ownership pattern is problematic and presents difficult land management challenges that will continue to fester. But the public was not sympathetic to those challenges, and Risch said "the USFS land is public land and the owners' view, particularly those living closest to the land, should be considered."
"A critical mass of consensus is essential to resolving this issue. That does not exist now and is not even close at this time. Until substantial consensus can be achieved, a legislated exchange is not an option I can pursue," he wrote.
Western Pacific acquired the land from Plumb Creek Timber Co. in 2005 and immediately announced its desire to trade it to the Forest Service for parcels better suited for timber management. The company and agency attempted to foster the trade through a federal administrative process. A 2010 draft proposal contemplated trading isolated parcels of federal land scattered across several northern Idaho counties, but largely concentrated on the Palouse Ranger District for the private land.
But Idaho County commissioners objected to that plan, saying it would rob the county of private land and erode its tax base. The commissioners proposed that the exchange happen entirely within Idaho County. The agency produced another draft to address the county's concerns.
In 2013, Risch and fellow Idaho Republicans, Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Raul Labrador, asked the agency to stand down from the exchange so they could pursue legislation authorizing an exchange.
Throughout the process, public opposition was intense. Those against it said the private land was largely logged over and not worth the loss of public land in prime shape. Opposition that began on the Palouse shifted south to the Grangeville area.
On Thursday, Ray Anderson of Grangeville was delighted at Risch's decision.
"Good for Sen. Risch, he is listening to his constituents," he said.
But Idaho County Commissioner Skip Brandt said the failure of the legislative approach would eventually result in the Western Pacific land in the upper Lochsa basin coming into federal ownership through a purchase and a resulting reduction in county tax revenue that county citizens will regret.
"At the end of the day, when taxes go up, I'll be able to look at those people who call to complain and say, 'Where were you?'" he said.
Brandt said he hopes the company sells parcels in the upper Lochsa for development. Company spokesman Andy Hawes at Boise did not return a call seeking comment. Risch said in his letter that the company is "looking at different proposals" but that he doubted those proposals would garner enough public support to be viable.
Forest Service officials were reviewing the letter and said they did not yet know how they would respond.
"We appreciate the time Sen. Risch's office and the Idaho County commissioners have spent on this issue. We look forward to our continued cooperation as we work to find solutions that benefit the communities and this important watershed," said David Smith, director of public and governmental relations at the agency's northern region headquarters in Missoula, Mont.
John Krebs, a retired Forest Service employee from Potlatch, said the agency should have abandoned the exchange long ago.
"I can't understand why the Forest Service hasn't dropped out," he said. "They have every reason to do it.
Seeya 'round town, Moscow, because . . .
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