A federal agency could swap timberlands in Adams County for state endowment lands near McCall that have been at the center of several proposals this year.
Officials with the U.S. Forest Service’s Payette National Forest first proposed a potential land exchange in March as part of a public comment on the Idaho Department of Lands’ Payette Endowment Lands Strategy. BoiseDev first reported on the proposal.
Forest Supervisor Linda Jackson told Department of Lands Director Dustin Miller that the department, which was deciding on a strategic plan for 13 parcels near Payette Lake, needed to focus more on potential wildfire risks and impacts on the parcels. Jackson also said she was concerned about access for recreation, adding that the Payette National Forest was considering adding trails in the area.
In her letter, Jackson said “there are several checkerboard properties that we may want to discuss in the future that can be advantageous to both the Forest Service and IDL.”
“Checkerboard properties” refers to a common occurrence in which properties owned by different agencies or individuals are staggered, creating a checkerboard pattern of ownership on a map that can sometimes lead to public land access issues.
Land swap is among multiple proposals for McCall parcels
In March, the Idaho Board of Land Commissioners approved a tiered plan for 13 parcels of endowment land in the McCall area of impact — about 5,000 acres of state-owned land surrounding Payette Lake. The strategy would allow the department to potentially sell or find other management options for the parcels, some of which were not meeting the constitutional mandate for endowment lands to create revenue to benefit Idaho’s schools.
At the time, the Idaho Department of Lands was weighing an offer from investment firm Trident Holdings that would have swapped North Idaho timberlands for roughly 28,000 acres around Payette and Little Payette lakes. The department rejected Trident’s offer in August, and the company filed a lawsuit accusing the department of bias in early September. Last week, the land board declined to take up a contested case hearing on the rejected Trident proposal.
Also last week, a newly formed conservation group called United Payette submitted its own proposal for the lands, saying it would work with the Department of Lands strategy to drive revenue from the parcels while also maintaining conservation and recreation access.
Scott Phillips, policy and communications chief for the Department of Lands, told the Idaho Statesman in a phone interview that the United Payette and Forest Service proposals are the only active ones that he’s aware of when it comes to the McCall land.
Work to be done on land swap proposal
Phillips said talks with the Forest Service are in “a very preliminary state.” The two agencies earlier this month drafted a memorandum of understanding that would set the ball rolling for formal talks on a land swap.
Documents show the Department of Lands could potentially trade about 16,000 acres around McCall for roughly 31,000 acres of Payette National Forest property in Adams County. The McCall lands would include several of the parcels included in the Payette Endowment Land Strategy, as well as acreage not included in the strategic plan.
Forest Service officials said the acquisition would allow them to expand the forest, offering more recreation opportunities near McCall.
Phillips said the trade would offer the Department of Lands prime timberland in a choice area.
“The (land swap area) we’ve identified is high-quality timberland with existing road systems, which would facilitate getting timber out,” Phillips said. “Qualitatively, it’s on a similar level to some of our top-quality timberlands in northern Idaho.”
Phillips said there is standing timber already ready to be harvested from the area, as well as sawmills nearby poised to process the lumber.
“It checks a lot of boxes for the department,” he said.
Phillips said most state endowment lands are open to the public even when they are under timber leases. He said he expected the same would be true on the Adams County land if a swap takes place.