Some of the checkerboard landscape(s) across the western US can be attributed to the Congressional land grants made to the railroad barons in the 1800’s. While some lands were eventually developed for railroads, others never were. Unfortunately, instead of these unused lands being returned to the public domain, some were sold off to timber barons, where both sides made “a mint” off the backs of our federal public lands.

Such is the case in the upper Lochsa drainage of Idaho. After purchasing the land, Plum Creek Timber Company severely roaded and clear-cut tens of thousands of acres near the Idaho/Montana border. In 2005, Western Pacific Timber, with involvement from the notorious Tim Blixseth, purchased the 39,000-acres of checkerboard lands and proceeded to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Forest Service to execute a land exchange.

Fast-foward to 2013, when the Idaho Delegation sent a letter to the Forest Service telling them to suspend the administrative process and “stand-ready” to assist with potential legislation to make the land exchange happen. Keep in mind, the administrative process included approximately 5 years of work, (2) voluminous Environmental Impact Statements, countless meetings and public involvement opportunities and, perhaps, most importantly, produced fierce opposition from citizens, including from a group of Forest Service retirees.

I sent the following letter to Chair Mary L. Landrieu, US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, in response to Senator James Risch’s recent intervention. I am sharing this letter with the hope that it may educate people further about this important public land issue and hopefully, get citizens to write their own letters and/or make phone calls  so we can stop the boondoggle known as the Upper Lochsa Land Exchange.

Chairman Mary L. Landrieu
U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources 304 Dirksen Senate Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairman Mary L. Landrieu,

As a public land owner and strong advocate of our democratic system, I write with deep concern about U.S. Senator James E. Risch (Idaho) potentially sponsoring legislation for the highly contentious Upper Lochsa Land Exchange. This legislation, if introduced, would go through the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources.

After personally participating in the administrative process, in which, the US Forest Service (FS) has invested more than five years of American taxpayer money to analyze a potential administrative exchange, I was dismayed when learning that the Idaho delegation recently requested the FS stop the current administrative process. As you are well aware, Congress created the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to be the tool for decision-making involving federal public lands. The legislative “solution” put forth by Senator Risch undermines our public lands laws and the legitimate public involvement process.

I wanted to share with you, that after two voluminous Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and five years of public meetings and other public involvement forums, the vast numbers of Americans who have commented on the administrative exchange proposal have been vehemently opposed to it. Public record requests indicate that the comments received by the FS reflects over 90% opposition to an exchange. For over five years, the American people have been speaking against this proposal, and yet, lo and behold, Senator Risch has announced his support of a legislative exchange. This flies-in-the-face of vast public opposition.

A potential legislative land exchange would do more than erode our democracy and my faith in our elected leaders. It would equate to the loss of tens-of-thousands of acres of federal public lands that offer highly valued fishing, hunting and other recreational opportunities, loss of deeply held cultural values, as well as degradation of ecologically important lands. The lands that could potentially be included in a legislative exchange are part of our heritage.

There is a way, however, that the upper Lochsa lands can rightfully return to public ownership, while not having to forfeit any federal public lands, at all. This win-win situation can come from a complete purchase-option via the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The LWCF was created by an act of Congress for this exact type of situation, …“ a bipartisan commitment to safeguard natural areas, water resources and our cultural heritage…”

If the Idaho delegation wishes to serve the public good and leave a lasting legacy for future generations, then utilizing the LWCF for a complete purchase-option would be the way. Unfortunately, Senator Jim Risch has indicated that he endorses an exchange through a politically expedient, collaborative legislative process.

In conclusion, it makes little, to no sense, for the American public to be forced to forfeit use of low-elevation forested lands, in order to obtain the higher-elevation, heavily roaded and cutover 39,000-acre checkerboard landscape in the upper Lochsa. Robbing Peter to pay Pal is wrong.

I request that you consider using your authority as Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources to investigate, question and vigorously challenge any legislation sponsored by Idaho Senator Jim Risch involving the Upper Lochsa Land Exchange. I am proud to be a citizen of Idaho, but my options appear limited, and therefore, I request your leadership and courage.

Thank you very much for your time, regarding this important federal public lands issue. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Brett Haverstick PO Box 8193
Moscow, Idaho 83843

Cc: Senator James E. Risch

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About The Author

Brett Haverstick

Brett Haverstick is the Education & Outreach Director for Friends of the Clearwater, a public lands advocacy group in Moscow, Idaho. He has a Masters of Natural Resources from the University of Idaho. In his personal time, he manages the project Speak for Wolves. The views expressed here are his own.

4 Responses to Open Letter to Senator Mary Landrieu Upper Lochsa Land Exchange

  1. avatar mebb says:

    People are being deprived of due process via the congressional delegation’s instruction to the Forest Service to halt their administrative decision. The public deserves to see a final environmental impact statement and have their questions and concerns addressed by the agency. We also have a right to know what federal parcels they are appraising. It’s our land!
    Public outrage over this and possible loss of multiple values not quantified, with timber and land appraisals they are told they can’t see, is valid. When special interests try writing their own check on the public’s bank account and both public/ professional concerns are helpless in influencing officials, we are dealing with more than an unjust land exchange. We are confronting the erosion of ethics as the public is summarily ripped off.
    When a special interest like Western Pacific Timber is encouraged by federal agency to extort value from something of lesser value, we have a problem. The solution is total transparency, as Senator Risch avowed. Senator Crapo and Representative Labrador should join him in ensuring the public is heard and their interest is served, regardless of any political agenda.

  2. avatar Monty says:

    Republicans are in the habit of talking out of both sides of their months. They preach against socialism while mining the wealth from the land and leaving the “cleanup” costs to society. Western Pacific Timber mined the high value old growth trees and wants society to pay for more old growth. That is socialism! If you harvest 500 year old trees and replace them with 40 year old trees that’s tree mining. 500 years ago this country, in terms of natural attributes, of clean air and water, rich deep top soils, forests, fisheries and so on was rich beyond compare. The mining,fishing and timber barons got rich by mining the resources and leaving the “cleanup costs to society. What is the definition of someone who privatizes profits and externalizes cost?

  3. avatar Idahome says:

    Retired Forest Service employees took the Great Old Broads for Wilderness to some of the once proposed and maybe still proposed parcels on Western Pacific Timber’s radar. We visited a 165 acre parcel with very nice timber and came upon at least 6 public land owners recreating that Saturday morning. Despite what the Palouse District ranger conveyed, you can be sure that the public will no longer be able to do these activities if Western Pacific Timber has their way.

    On another occasion, I had the opportunity to visit a proposed parcel down in Riggins, Idaho. We climbed up a steep hill to the top of a beautiful vista. Funny though, there was not one tree on this vista for Western Pacific Timber to cut down. It would make a nice place to build a nice big home though. WPS is a developer at the heart of the matter.

    I am disgusted that Senator Risch is ignoring the overwhelming public sentiment to STOP THE SWAP!We have gone through 2 comment periods already. “Collaboration” is the great guise for Western Pacific Timber, the Forest Service and legislatures. It emotes the idea that everyone will be able to participate in this land exchange. If and when this collaborative process happens Western Pacific Timber will be the one to take our comments and sort through them. Humm…. Conflict of interest?

    It may seem like an isolated issue in the middle of Idaho, but if the legislature is allowed to continually run political and timber beast lines around our public lands, while ignoring our input, then we will see our beautiful lands diminish faster than our children will get to enjoy them.

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Quote

‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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