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Timber company plans to log, subdivide northern Idaho land as swap with feds stalls

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LEWISTON, Idaho — A timber company plans to log and subdivide portions of more than 60 square miles of land it owns in northern Idaho, a tract it's trying to swap with the federal government in a deal that has stalled over concerns about the public's loss of access.

Western Pacific Timber Co. has worked with the U.S. Forest Service on the Lochsa Land Exchange for several years. Under the deal, the federal agency would trade public land for the larger amount of private land owned by Western Pacific in the upper Lochsa River basin.

The land includes habitat for threatened steelhead and bull trout, Canada lynx, elk and portions of the Nez Perce National Historic Trail. Explorers Lewis and Clark trekked the area in the early 1800s.

Western Pacific Timber Co. signed a contract with a Montana business to log near Moose Lake in the upper Clearwater Basin to bring in money while the deal remains in limbo, company spokesman Andy Hawes said.

"We have been at this so long, we felt it was time at this point, in order to keep the lights on so to speak, to generate some revenue from our Lochsa lands," he told the Lewiston Tribune in a story published Tuesday (http://bit.ly/1n3Qe7I ).

The land exchange has drawn opposition from about two dozen retired U.S. Forest Service employees, who contend it trades away popular recreation areas for inaccessible timberlands on the Idaho-Montana border.

Commissioners in Idaho County also opposed the exchange because it would reduce the private property tax base. Commissioner Skip Brandt welcomed the subdividing of the timber company's land.

"I would love to see a few million dollar homes go in up there, so let the building commence," he said.

Last fall, Republican U.S. Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, and Republican Rep. Raul Labrador, asked the Forest Service to halt a National Environmental Policy Act review of the exchange. The lawmakers said legislation might be a better option for getting the trade done.

However, that effort also appears stalled. John Sandy, chief of staff for Risch, said the senator has "too much other things going on."

Nez Perce-Clearwater Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell said he would like the exchange to happen to get rid of the checkerboard property lines. But he said the agency will stand aside as Risch, Crapo and Labrador work on a legislative solution.

Hawes, the timber company spokesman, said the exchange could still happen.

"We are definitely still open to an exchange and definitely would support it," he said. "But given our economic situation, we may need to proceed with additional steps when it is clear nothing will begin to happen in the legislative process this year, or it's certain nothing will happen early next year."


Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com

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