The upper Lochsa River drainage includes a checkerboard pattern ofpublic and private lands. Under a proposed land exchange with WesternPacific Timber, the Forest Service could soon control all the lands. Photocourtesy of USFS.
7.FORESTS:Idaho land swap delayed as USFS weighs options
Eryn Gable, special to E&E
Officials with the Clearwater National Forest in northern Idaho are reconsidering the terms of a proposedland exchange that could bring nearly 40,000 acres of timberland located in the upper Lochsa River underfederal ownership.The deal called for swapping 28,000 acres of federal land scattered across northern Idaho for nearly 40,000acres of former Plum Creek Timber Co. lands intermingled with the Clearwater National Forest. But after apublic backlash against the proposal, the Forest Service is considering reducing the federal lands in the dealto less than 18,000 acres and purchasing some of the checkerboard lands rather than acquiring themthrough an exchange."Our forest supervisor met with state and county officials and heard their concerns and tried to form a newalternative to meet more of their concerns," said Teresa Trulock, the Clearwater forest's project manager forthe exchange.The decision means another delay in the release of the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for theproposal, originally expected last year. The draft EIS is now scheduled for release in October, with a finaldecision expected next June.The lands' current owner, Western Pacific Timber LLC, has indicated it would consider accepting cash aspart of the exchange. But the company is also anxious to see the deal finalized, said the firm's generalcounsel, Andy Hawes, noting that Western Pacific has negotiated with the Forest Service over the dealsince 2006."We are at a critical point," he said. "If wecan't realistically put something together bythe end of this year or the first of next year,we have to consider how we're going to geta return on our investment."The Western Pacific lands are of interest tothe Forest Service because they include theheadwaters of the Lochsa River, whichprovides habitat for many fish and wildlifespecies, as well as significant culturalresources such as the Lewis and ClarkNational Historic Trail and the Nez PerceTribe treaty area.Forest Service officials maintain that thecurrent checkerboard pattern of landsmakes it difficult to manage the lands on anecosystem scale. For example, theClearwater National Forest and the NezPerce Tribe Watershed Division have triedto improve the upper Lochsa River drainageby decommissioning roads and replacingculverts, but those efforts have so far beenlimited to federal lands.
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