Going once…..going twice…..and, sold to the highest bidder!  

On Wednesday, September 14th, the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) auctioned off Payette Lake’s Cougar Island in McCall. The island was first offered as five individual parcels, then as a whole, resulting in a single bid for one parcel from current leaseholder Jim Laski of Bellevue, Idaho. Laski offered the minimum bid, $2 million for the 2.5 acre lot he currently leases from IDL, and upon which he has built a cabin and associated infrastructure. The remaining four lots remain unsold.

Since the auction didn’t result in the financial bonanza that IDL and the Idaho Land Board had hoped for, many are asking ICL and United Payette, the diverse coalition ICL helped form last year to address these issues, “What’s next?”  

In a news release, IDL reported they “will evaluate the next step for the other parcels on the island. The Land Board’s continuing goal is to maximize the return on behalf of the endowment beneficiary.” The state could still try to sell the island as a whole at a lower price, or IDL could explore other options to generate revenue. How IDL intends to achieve this objective remains unknown.

One thing we can tell you for sure is that ICL. United Payette, and our partners will continue to pursue short- and long-term goals to conserve these endowment lands in perpetuity.

We will:

  • explore multiple strategies, and continue working with the City of McCall and Valley County to maintain open spaces through an open space and recreation Advisory Council being created by Valley County, with United Payette support and input,
  • continue our conversations with the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation regarding the potential expansion of Ponderosa State Park through an acquisition of endowment lands, and
  • continue tracking a potential land exchange between the U.S. Forest Service and IDL that could resolve public access issues for generations to come.

The potential sale of Cougar Island and the loss of public access has provided a dramatic roller coaster ride of emotions, anxieties, hope, and determination in Valley County, and across the state. We may have a moment of reprieve available to us right now, but ICL, United Payette, and other partners are not going to rest comfortably until we achieve permanent conservation status for these precious lands. We will continue our advocacy and work as a community on September 24th for the 2nd annual Clean UP event sponsored by United Payette. Come join us as we do our part to pick up trash and alleviate some of the impacts from heavy recreational use this past summer on some key endowment land parcels in, and around McCall. If you are interested in participating in this ongoing effort, contact Randy Fox at rfox@idahoconservation.org for more information and to sign up for the event.  

As always, thank you for your support and advocacy for our public lands and access to state lands we cherish and hold dear. Without your support, none of this work would be possible.