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State could swap endowment land around McCall to expand national forest

BoiseDev Exclusive

It looks like a trade for land around Payette Lake could happen after all — but not with Trident Holdings.

Documents obtained by BoiseDev through a public records request indicate the Idaho Department of Lands has been talking with the United States Forest Service about swapping much of the most-scenic land IDL controls near McCall.  The move would shift the land from state control to federal control, expanding the Payette National Forest.

In exchange, the Idaho Land Endowment would add land in Adams County currently owned by USFS.

A story BoiseDev members got first.

USFS concern over McCall-area land

The process started in March when USFS Forest Supervisor Linda Jackson wrote IDL director Dustin Miller with comments on the Payette Endowment Lands Strategy, a long-term planning process the department put together last year and into the beginning of this year.

“Being neighbors in a community that cherishes its open space and unfettered access has often made our boundaries nearly irrelevant; and certainly wildfire, insects and disease, and other such natural processes, know no such bounds,” Jackson wrote.

In the letter, Jackson said the Forest Service had concerns about future development in so-called “upland timber areas” — like the hills surrounding Payette Lake.

“With a potential increase in construction of private residences or other high-value infrastructure within the (wildland-urban interface), the devastation of private property, loss of life, and an increase in expenditures of tax dollars should be considered,” Jackson wrote. “With continued residential development, our margin of success will be further reduced, posing an increased risk to life and property as has been seen in the complete loss of entire communities in California and Oregon in recent years.”

[BoiseDev in-depth: Payette region proposal coverage]

Trident land swap Idaho
A sign denotes the boundary for some of the Idaho Land Endowment land. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

Jackson closed her letter by noting the USFS might be interested in “land exchanges or acquisitions,” and said “there are several… properties that we may want to discuss in the future that can be advantageous to both the Forest Service and IDL.”

Later that month, the Idaho Land Board lifted a moratorium on proposals for its land in the McCall area. At the time, it seemed to signal an opening for Trident Holdings — but also opened the door for the Forest Service.

The department rejected Trident’s proposal, and the Idaho Land Board denied an appeal. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who sits on the Land Board, noted the actions the agency and board take on its land are policy decisions. He said choosing which proposals to act on are a matter of the board’s “business judgment.”

Over the spring and summer, staff members from the Department of Lands and Forest Service discussed how they might find common ground in the metaphorical sense — and swappable ground in the literal one.

Records show the two agencies began to look at how they might swap land that would benefit the goals of both groups.

The federal and state groups worked out a memorandum of understanding that outlines a process for both groups to formally study an exchange. A deal is not yet in place and officials with both agencies would still need to sort out details.

The broad outline puts 25 square miles of IDL endowment land in play, as well as more than 48 square miles of Forest Service timberland.

Expanding Payette National Forest

Payette National Forest McCall
Map shows Idaho Department of Lands-controlled parcels that could be swapped to the US Forest Service. Via public record/BoiseDev overlay

From the IDL side, a large portion of the land in the Payette Lakes region is included. The property outlined on a map obtained by BoiseDev shows much of the tree-covered hills around Payette Lake, as well as land to the east of the lake, as well as surrounding Little Payette Lake. The land is adjacent to the Payette National Forest and would extend Forest Service-owned lands down into the area adjacent to both lakes and the North Fork of the Payette River as it flows into Payette Lake.

It does not include some of the higher-value properties, like Cougar Island and Shellworth island, which site in the lake itself, land in the City of McCall on Deinhard Lane, or the parcels in Pilgrim Cove.

The proposal includes some but not all of the same land involved in the Trident Holdings proposal and also includes some areas not in the Trident concept.

Trident also sued for Judicial Review in Idaho’s Fourth District Court, though that case has not yet moved forward.

The McCall area land the state could trade to the Forest Service borders the Payette National Forest. Idaho endowment lands are owned by the state, but by a strict definition are not public lands. The parcels must be managed to produce a financial return under the Idaho Constitution.

Benefits of a trade

Map shows US Forest Service-controlled parcels that could be swapped with the Idaho Department of Lands in Adams County.Via public record/BoiseDev overlay

On the Forest Service side of the trade, the state could receive land in Adams County that borders existing endowment lands in the area along the Forest Service border in the New Meadows and Council ranger districts. The swap would give IDL access to landlocked parcels it already owns in the area.

A draft set of talking points obtained by BoiseDev in the request notes that the trade would support recreation uses, potentially add new trails and hunting areas, help protect the watershed, “preserve open space” and other benefits.

The USFS also said it could help to “enhance and manage a wildland-urban interface that promotes wildlife resilient communities.”

In her March letter, Jackson said development in the hills around the lake – “even at low densities” could make fire mitigation efforts harder, and pointed to recent situations in California and Oregon as scenarios the agency hopes to avoid.

For the Department of Lands, the talking points memo says benefits include consolidating lands for management, improving access to endowment lands for management, and “maximizing the long-term return for the endowment beneficiaries by allowing for increased annual timber harvest volumes that will generate additional revenue for endowment beneficiaries immediately and in the future.”

What’s next

Last week BoiseDev told you about a proposal from United Payette, a coalition of groups in the McCall area, for much of IDL’s lands in the area. The USFS trade deal could preempt some of the ideas set forth in UP’s proposal, but United Payette also hopes to find solutions it deems palatable for some of the higher-value endowment lands not included in the possible forest service trade.

Once the MOU is signed, the two sides can begin more formal discussions and negotiations. A timeline on when a deal might be reached isn’t yet known – and it’s possible a deal won’t come together.

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Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don is the founder and publisher of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow. Contact him at [email protected].

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