Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Latah County Farm Bureau News

Former Rangers: Current Locksa Land Exchange Not Good for Northern Idaho
By Bob Smathers
Moscow--Three retired rangers from the Palouse Ranger District attended a Latah County Farm Bureau meeting on March 9 in Moscow to express their concerns about the proposed Upper Locksa Land Exchange.

Larry Ross, Blake Ballard and Irv Johnson, all former rangers said the exchange is a bad deal for the communities adjacent to the Palouse Ranger District. The owner of the Locksa Parcels, Western Pacific Timber, LLC, is seeking to exchange 39,371 acres of mostly logged over land held in the Upper Lochsa with 28,212 acres of timbered Forest Service land that is mostly located in Latah, Clearwater, and Idaho Counties.

“The problem is that these Forest Service lands are far more valuable because of developed roads, culverts, timber productivity, and recreational amenities” says Ross. If these lands are exchanged, the public will be locked out of lands they have enjoyed for horseback riding, hiking, berry picking, wood cutting, timber harvest, grazing, fishing, photography, camping, hunting, 4-wheeling, and many other similar pursuits.

“They will be lost to the public” says Ross. The Forest Service said the discrepancies in value would be taken into consideration in the appraisal process. But, Ross says the appraisal process used by the Forest Service only takes into account the value of standing timber. Their value to the public or amenity value would not be accounted for in the Forest Service appraisal process.

The parcels in the Lochsa are located far from any populated areas and are rarely used for anything, but timber production, whereas the Palouse parcels are highly used by many people and for many uses including timber production.

“These lands that are being traded away are minutes away from most of the communities in North Central Idaho” says Ross. The most distant parcel being considered for possible trade is a 3 minute drive from Elk River and a 50 minute drive from Moscow. Most of the parcels being considered for possible trade are less than a 10 minute drive from one of the areas communities.

Conversely, the closest parcel being considered for acquiring in the Upper Lochsa is approximately 4 hours away from the communities in the Palouse region. Ross says that land alternatives that are far more fair to the public, have been offered to the Forest Service, but have been ignored. This is troubling, said Ross, "because the Forest Service has not been transparent."

Latah County Commissioners had no idea the Forest Service was talking about giving away thousands of acres in their county. “The process needs to be transparent and that has not been the case up until now” says Ross. The public needs to be in agreement on the parcels that are traded. The former rangers along with another organization called “The Friends of the Palouse Ranger District” are trying to enforce NEPA and an EIS to force public comment. The EIS is supposed to be available next summer; a 45 day public comment period will follow its release.

The former rangers and Friends of the Palouse Ranger District are encouraging the public and organizations to write letters to their congressional representatives and to forward them onto the Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, and managers and supervisors with the Forest Service in the Clearwater Region. “Each organization that feels strongly about this land exchange needs to go on record with the Forest Service that they oppose it” says Ross.

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