The Benewah County Commissioners endorsed a proposal for the Bureau of Land Management to take ownership of 640 acres of private property neat St. Joe Baldy.
While the commissioners did not hesitate to offer their support, the transaction will take some time to complete.
Kurt Pavlat, BLM Coeur d’Alene Field Manager, met with the commissioners Monday to explain the proposal. Under the plan, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation would buy the parcel from Hancock Forest Management then sell the land to the BLM when the agency secured funding for the purchase.
“There is not a lot of timber up there,” Mr. Pavlat told the commissioners. “This property would be managed as public land, multiple use.”
The property is surrounded by BLM land, including the Crystal Lake Wilderness Study Area on one side, Mr. Pavlat said. BLM has recommended against wilderness designation for the area and will manage the area for multiple use, he said.
If BLM buys the land, it would ensure motorized and non-motorized access, expand hunting and recreation opportunities and improve conservation, he said.
Mr. Pavlat emphasized the best use for the land is recreation and wildlife conservation.
“Since there is limited commercial timber . . . road building would outweigh the value of the timber,” he said. “If it were 100% good value timber, I wouldn’t be here and Hancock would not be willing to sell it.”
Mr. Pavlov met with the county to keep local government and the community informed. He was not asking for an endorsement.
“I’m not here asking for a vote. What I am asking is if you would be neutral,” he said.
The commissioners went one better.
They unanimously endorsed the proposal.
“It’s a good trade,” Commissioner Jack Buell said.
The warm reception by the county for the conversion of private property to public ownership stands in contrast to recent criticism the commissioners have levelled against the Idaho Department of Lands for their purchases of private timberland.
On several occasions the county has asked state officials to refrain from making more land buys in the county because it takes the land off the tax rolls.
That criticism prompted the state land board to review further purchases. The state, which recently sold a variety of property including lakefront lots and commercial property in the Boise area, has some $150 million available for land purchases.
There is a distinction between the BLM proposals and (IDL) land buys.
The BLM makes payments to the county to replace the lost property taxes. IDL does not.
“We couldn’t have a better relationship than what we have with the BLM,” Commissioner Phil Lampert said.
Mr. Pavlat estimated the sale price for the 640 acres to be $450,000. The annual taxes his agency would pay the county after the BLM takes ownership would be about $1,630.