About 40,000 acres of land in Idaho, along the Montana-Idaho border near Lolo Pass, is in the process of being conveyed to the U.S. Forest Service as part of a land swap with Western Pacific Timber, LLC (WPT).
WPT, partially owned by timber baron and former Yellowstone Club owner Tim Blixseth, purchased the land from Plum Creek Timber Co. in late 2005 with the intent to broker an exchange, a maneuver used in the past by Blixseth to add value to his holdings. The company entered into an agreement with the Forest Service last September to initiate the exchange and an environmental impact statement is currently underway.
The land is composed of about 60 square-mile checkerboard blocks intermingled with Clearwater National Forest land, encompassing the headwaters of the Lochsa River and home to threatened and endangered species. The historic Lolo Trail, used by migrating Nez Perce Indians and later by Lewis and Clark, runs through it.
The swap would effectively extend the reach of the Montana Legacy Project into Idaho, according to Teresa Trulock, project manager with the Clearwater.
“We’re right over the border from that,” Trulock says. “If you just look over the state line, that imaginary boundary, this is the checkerboard that continues on the Idaho side.
“Checkerboard lands are hard to manage,” she continues, “because it’s hard to do a holistic approach to resource management when you only own and manage every other square mile…This opportunity came to us, and it makes it easier to manage fire on the landscape. It makes it easier to manage fish and wildlife.”
In exchange for its 39,371 acres in the upper Lochsa River drainage, WPT would receive 28,212 acres of Forest Service land in small parcels in seven counties in central and northern Idaho. WPT’s Brian Disney describes them as “fingers and toes—scattered parcels that affect the public the least amount.”
Asked if the land is attractive for real estate development—like other Blixseth transactions—Disney said, “There’s always that chance down the line, but if you look at these properties, they’re timber properties. This is a timber deal.”
Commissioners in northern Idaho’s Latah County voted May 6 to oppose the land swap for its potential to affect the county’s character and public access, but they hold no authority.