As of Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Western Pacific Timber (WPT) delivered an Upper Lochsa Land Exchange proposal to the offices of Sen. Jim Risch, Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Raul Labrador last Monday, Sept. 22.
In Idaho County, should the bill become law, WPT would acquire approximately 28 square miles of U.S. Forest Service land in the Harpster vicinity and approximately six square miles bordering the Elk City township. WPT would also acquire approximately one square mile in Bonner County and less than one square mile in Kootenai County.
In return, WPT would convey to the Forest Service up to 38,371 acres in the Lochsa River headwaters, which are presently scattered among public lands in a checkerboard pattern near U.S. Highway 12 toward the Montana border in the core of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests. WPT posted “for sale” signs along U.S. 12 earlier this year.
WPT’s proposal would also make some Forest Service lands in Idaho, Clearwater and Latah counties available “for value equalization.” In Idaho County, approximately a quarter of a square mile located four miles southeast of Riggins could be traded for that purpose under WPT’s proposal.
In a letter dated Sept. 22, WPT described the proposed legislation to the congressmen as an “opportunity for this timber to flow to Idaho mills, rather than mills in Montana where timber harvested from the Upper Lochsa lands has traditionally gone.” Idaho County has long argued that freeing up nearby lands for private logging would provide a significant boost to the local timber economy compared to leaving land under Forest Service management. Local mills did not comment in response to Free Press requests last Tuesday morning, Sept. 23.
“Having a draft bill for public review is a positive step,” Rep. Raul Labrador said. “Over the past year, there has been an open and honest effort to give stakeholders an opportunity to have their concerns heard. I will review the draft. I look forward to engaging my constituents and moving this process along in a fair and transparent manner.”
WPT also suggested the proposal would benefit a variety of other interests and organizations, including the Forest Service, the Nez Perce Tribe, grazing permit holders, outfitters, environmental and conservation groups, historians and “the people of Idaho County.”
The Free Press sought comment from local and federal officials last Tuesday. Nez Perce-Clearwater Forests supervisor Rick Brazell was “on leave” and local office spokeswoman Laura Smith said any comment would likely have to come from the regional office. Idaho County commissioner Skip Brandt said he had not yet reviewed WPT’s proposal.
The full text of the proposed legislation and the associated maps and letters are available here.