Land grabbed, swapped 

Plum Creek Timber Co. recently sold about 40,000 acres along the Montana-Idaho border near Powell to Tim Blixseth, timber tycoon and developer of Montana’s exclusive Yellowstone Club.

The land, the balance of Plum Creek’s Idaho holdings, is made up of 640-acre sections interspersed in a checkerboard arrangement with Forest Service land that’s managed by the Clearwater National Forest. The historic Lolo Trail, used by migrating Nez Perce Indians and later by explorers Lewis and Clark, runs through both public and private land in the area, and trail and road easements have afforded public access to the privately owned sections. While the Clearwater’s Roberta Morin says the Forest Service hasn’t been formally informed of the sale and is thus unclear about the status of public access, Blixseth assures the Independent that access won’t change. He also says he has no plans to log the area: “There’s been so much timber cut off that property that I have zero plans to log any trees. That property needs to heal up and grow,” Blixseth says.

In the long term, he says, the area should be publicly owned and he hopes to broker a land exchange with the government to consolidate ownership for both the public and him. Blixseth, whom Forbes magazine ranks as the nation’s 346th richest person, has a history of successful land exchanges: In the ’90s, he transferred about 160,000 acres adjacent to Yellowstone National Park to the Forest Service in exchange for land he used to create the 21-square-mile Yellowstone Club, a private ski and golf resort where applicants must prove they’re worth at least $3 million to join and building lots cost millions. Blixseth also owns about 200,000 acres near Boise, Idaho, and says he’s working on a land trade to return the scenic Payette River corridor to public ownership. He’s also in the midst of a 100,000-acre land swap in Washington.

Blixseth says he doesn’t have any particular land exchange in mind for his new Idaho property, or any real plans at all beyond fishing three small lakes there next summer: “Who knows what will happen, but I think it’s a great piece of property.”

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