Groups fret murky Lochsa land swap

Thanks for sharing Cheryl Halverson
Two months after signaling intention of taking over the proposed Upper Lochsa Land Exchange, U.S. Sen. James Risch and other members of the Idaho congressional delegation still haven't revealed how members of the public can participate in the new process. Nor has the delegation outlined how all of the stakeholders can join in the collaborative effort it pledged to follow when it asked the U.S. Forest Service to back away from the 5-year-old land exchange.
Suzanne Wrasse, press secretary for Risch, said in an email exchange with the Tribune that the senator is not in charge of the process. Instead, she said Western Pacific Timber Co. and the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest are leading the effort that could see about 40,000 acres of private timber land in the upper Lochsa River Basin traded for an unknown amount of federal land.
In a letter Risch sent to Marilyn Beckett, one of the founders of the Friends of the Palouse Ranger District, a grass-roots group vigorously opposed to the trade, he said stakeholders "are currently working together to determine if they can find common solutions to move forward with this land exchange. Once they craft a legislative proposal, there will be public hearings to determine if it is in the best interest of all Idahoans."
He described the stakeholders as "the people of Idaho, all forest users, Idaho County, the Nez Perce Tribe, USFS and WPT."
Andy Hawes of Western Pacific Timber said the delegation has asked the company to meet with stakeholders, including the county, the Forest Service and the tribe. Hawes said his company has also met with some representatives of motorized recreation over the past year to talk about possible easements that would allow continued access to any public land that becomes private. But it has not met with the larger group of stakeholders - all forest users and the people of Idaho - that Risch identified.
Some who have followed the proposed exchange for years worry the public won't get to comment until a land exchange proposal is finalized.
"What weight will the general public carry if (Risch) selects the collaborative groups," said John Krebs, a retired Forest Service employee who is against the trade. "Where is the public?"
Beckett wants Risch and the delegation to involve the public before and not after legislation is crafted.
"I don't see what harm would be done by having public hearings previous to them trying to draft a bill," she said. "It seems like they could get a lot of good suggestions and get a real good sense of the public temperature on this thing. It may not be pretty but oh well, that is what the process is supposed to do."
Representatives from the Forest Service and the tribe didn't know of any efforts to bring the parties to a common table.
"Nobody has been pulled together," said Nez Perce-Clearwater Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell.
He said as he understands the new process, the company is to forward information it collects from the stakeholders to the delegation and the information will be the basis of legislation.
"They are trying to come up with some language for draft legislation they would give to the congressionals, and the congressional folks would pull everybody together and say, 'Here is a starting point, let's have a dialogue,' " he said.
Darren Williams, a spokesman for the tribe, said Risch asked the Nez Perce to meet with the timber company but nothing has taken place. The tribe previously told the Forest Service it is concerned that a land trade could affect its members' treaty rights on public land that would become private.
Hawes said he doesn't expect much to happen in the form of draft legislation prior to the end of the year. However, he said the company is eager to see the process move forward early next year.
"That is the time period to really see, from Western Pacific's standpoint, to see if we can work with other groups and to put together a good legislative package that the Idaho delegation can work on," he said.
Groups fret murky Lochsa land swap 
By ERIC BARKER of the Tribune | Posted: Saturday, December 7, 2013   
Barker may be contacted at or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker. 

U.S. Sen. James Risch and other members of the Idaho congressional delegation still haven't revealed how members of the public can participate in the new process.

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From the following Lewiston Tribune Article it's obvious that this trade is still being managed by Western Pacific Timber for their interests and not primarily being pushed by any public or Forest Service need. Risch promised public input. It's time to email, call or fax his office now to remind him that he promised a public involvement process. If he backs off that promise we must remember and vote accordingly next November.




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