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Idaho pursuing land exchange deal with timber company, US

April 21, 2020 GMT

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho hasn’t given up on a three-way potential land swap and cash deal involving a private timber company and the U.S. Forest Service that is running into opposition from the Nez Perce Tribe, state officials said Tuesday.

Republican Gov. Brad Little said the potential deal could increase Idaho’s state-owned lands with timber-producing forests that make money mainly for public schools.

“Land exchanges are always a little dicey,” he said during a teleconference meeting of the Idaho Land Board. “In this particular instance, there are mature timber lands that the state could acquire.”

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Little and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who is also a member of the Land Board along with three other statewide office holders, have engaged the tribe seeking a way forward.

The tribe is concerned it could lose access rights for fishing, hunting and other activities it has with the U.S. government under 1855 and 1863 treaties if Idaho ends up owning what is now federal land.

“Tribal members continue to rely on these National Forest lands to exercise Treaty-reserved rights,” the tribe said in a letter to the state in June. The tribe said Idaho won’t recognize rights it has under the treaties.

The Land Board is constitutionally obligated to manage the state’s 3,900 square miles (10,100 square kilometers) of land received at statehood to get the greatest long-term financial return for state beneficiaries.

Some of the private land offered by the timber company has cultural value to the tribe. It also has important habitat for a variety of species, including steelhead, a prized sport fish. The timber company could sell the land as private parcels if a deal doesn’t happen.

The Central Idaho Land Exchange, as it’s called, is a revamp of the failed Lochsa Land Exchange attempted by the U.S. Forest Service and Western Pacific Timber.

In that deal, Western Pacific Timber offered 39,000 acres (16,000 hectares) of land in the upper Lochsa River basin in exchange for U.S. Forest Service land of similar value. The deal collapsed in 2016 amid concerns by locals of loss of public access to favorite recreation areas on federal land.

Some counties were also concerned about losing tax revenue if the land went from private to public ownership, and those concerns remain.

The deal as proposed by Idaho would see the timber company transferring 30,000 acres (12,000 hectares) to the Forest Service, the Forest Service deeding selected parcels to Idaho, and Idaho putting money in escrow to pay the timber company. The timber company would get cash but no land in the deal.

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The money Idaho would pay would come from Land Bank funds. Idaho has been selling commercial and residential real estate in recent years and putting that money into the Land Bank. An investment company said the state should invest that money in timberland and farmland to offset ups and downs in the stock market.

Following that strategy, the Idaho Department of Lands, which is directed by the Land Board, in recent years has purchased about 36,000 acres (14,500 hectares) of timberland at a cost of about $50 million.

The Land Bank has a current balance of about $130 million that could be used in the Central Idaho Land Exchange

“I believe we have made some inroads with the Nez Perce Tribe and kept the momentum to make this a reality,” Dustin Miller, director of the Idaho Department of Lands, told Land Board members.

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