MISSOULA, Mont.—The U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Western Pacific Timber LLC and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have agreed, in principle, to work together on activities related to a potential land exchange in the Upper Lochsa River watershed along the Idaho-Montana border.
A memorandum of understanding documenting the agreement was signed Thursday at the Elk Foundation’s 24th annual convention in Reno.
Western Pacific Timber owns approximately 40,000 acres of land in the upper Lochsa drainage. The land was formerly owned by Plum Creek Timber Company. Often referred to as “checkerboard,” these private lands are interspersed with public lands managed by the Clearwater National Forest.
Western Pacific Timber has indicated interest in exchanging these lands with the Forest Service. This would allow the Forest Service to consolidate ownership in the area.
The Clearwater National Forest is currently conducting a feasibility analysis to determine if the land exchange is in the public’s best interest. The analysis will ensure compliance with applicable forestland management plans, identify public benefits, ensure the availability of resources to complete the proposed exchange and identify title and property description problems.
As a part of the feasibility study, the Forest Service is currently working to identify federal lands appropriate for exchange. The study will be completed this spring and will culminate with a decision regarding whether or not to proceed with the land exchange.
The Elk Foundation is interested in the proposed exchange because of its potential to permanently protect habitat for elk and other wildlife, including fish.
I had the pleasure of viewing this historic event and the four signers from left to Right are:
Brian Disney Western Pacific Timber
David Allen CEO Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
Tom Kidwell, United States Forest Service
Peter Ditton, United States Bureau of Land Management
The situation of checkerboard lands throughout the west has been an issue for a long time and it is great to see these organizations working together to complete these very complicated land swaps. The RMEF is leading the way to work on these land issues in the best interests of all parties involved.