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Group forms to preserve state-owned lands around McCall

July 7, 2021 GMT

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A new conservation group has formed hoping to preserve state-owned land around Payette Lake in west-central Idaho where a private company has proposed a huge land swap that could lead to developing much of that land with new homes.

The Idaho Statesman reports that United Payette announced its formation Tuesday.

It’s comprised of McCall-area residents, Brundage Mountain ski area, Payette Land Trust, Idaho Conservation League, Payette Land Trust, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Idaho Wildlife Federation and others.

The group in a news release said it “formed to spearhead a transparent and inclusive process to conserve Idaho’s endowment lands in the North Fork Payette watershed.”

Endowment lands are state-owned lands Idaho received when Idaho became a state in 1890. The lands are managed by the Idaho Land Board, comprised of Republican Gov. Brad Little and four other statewide-elected officials.

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The Land Board is constitutionally required to maximize long-term profit on the land. It’s possible the board is failing to meet that constitutional requirement for lands in the McCall area by continuing to rely on traditional uses, such as timber harvest, for land that has been soaring in value.

That makes disposing of the land in some way to get a greater return on the investment a potential option.

United Payette in a news release said it’s “coordinating with federal, state, county, and city government officials to help the Land Board fulfill this constitutional mandate while conserving the landscape and maintaining traditional uses for Idahoans.”

Brian Brooks, executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, the various entities have been “really responsive. They know how important these lands are to so many people.”

The Land Board earlier this year directed state workers with the Idaho Department of Lands to examine a new planning strategy for state-owned land in the area, including potential conservation easements. It’s not clear when that new planning strategy might be released. It’s a plan that could have long-lasting ramifications for state-owned lands across the state.

In all, the state manages about 285 square miles (740 square kilometers) around McCall, with 115 square miles (300 square kilometers) primarily as timberlands.

Statewide, the board directs the Idaho Department of Lands in managing about 3,900 square miles (10,000 square kilometers) of state-owned land.