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Lochsa land swap stagnates WPT to subdivide, sell 80 acres

LOWELL – About a mile and a half east of the Lochsa Lodge, Western Pacific Timber has a “for sale” sign and about 80 acres up for subdivision and developed. Located near Forest Service Road 111, the land is a tiny portion of the company’s holdings in that area, but the sale would be enough, in WPT attorney Andy Hawes’ words, “to keep the lights on.”

After years of pursuing a land trade with the Forest Service, WPT remains committed to finishing a trade. But: “If it becomes clear nothing is going to happen, we need to monetize,” Hawes said. “The exchange, from our perspective, is in limbo.”

That means not only parceling out a bit of land near U.S. Highway 12, but also selling timber. WPT has contracted to move some with a Montana producer. The logs will head east; Idaho County commissioner Skip Brandt lamented at length that these logs aren’t heading west to the mills in Grangeville, Kooskia or Kamiah, as timber cut on lands nearer to these towns likely would:

“To those of us invested in Idaho County—lifelong residents, loggers, ranchers and those busting it to make a living here—the loss of tax revenue and jobs heading over the border to Montana will be acutely felt,” Brandt wrote in an e-mail.

According to Brandt, the last year of WPT’s tax bill reads out to $100,658.04 in total, of which $40,262 goes to Mt. View School District 244, $28,090 goes to the county, $27,172 goes to fire protection, and $5,133 goes to Syringa Hospital District.

“I, along with many other citizens of Idaho County, believe that a private landowner is entitled to receive an economic benefit from the lands they own and have been paying taxes on,” Brandt wrote. “Western Pacific Timber has been paying taxes on their Lochsa property with no return for over eight years on top of a continued outpouring of resources and effort in order to make an exchange amenable with all of the stakeholders.”

Brandt also ripped conservation groups, who did not throw their weight behind an exchange “that protects the environmentally sensitive lands of the Upper Lochsa…I commend WPT for their hard work. They worked tirelessly to meet with all the effected stakeholders to resolve differences and develop ideas. Additionally, they demonstrated a willingness to encumber their property rights with proposals that would create the kind of exchange that would provide a win for the economy of our rural county.”

Last September, senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo and Rep. Raul Labrador asked the Forest Service to “pause” the process WPT was pursuing with the Forest Service in favor of a “legislative exchange.” The legislative exchange would protect grazing and public access rights while consolidating federal ownership of the Lochsa River headwaters and allowing WPT to privately manage tens of thousands of nearby acres for timber production.

“We’re willing to do that because the tracts that we’re interested in trading for are not desirable for development,” Hawes said. “It’s different with the land we own in the Lochsa – that area has development potential, and, contrary to what some people say, there’s quite a bit of timber up there.”

Hawes said there has been no progress on legislation: “We have to try to do what’s best for us with what we have.”

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