Many Idahoans hold fond memories of McCall, Payette Lake and the beautiful, undeveloped arc of land that surround it. Much of this forested area is managed by the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL)

Recently, a Boise real estate investment firm proposed a 28,000-acre land exchange to the IDL aimed at developing this arc around McCall and Payette Lake. While details are vague, it appears that lakefront homes, condos and other structures could occupy up to 40 miles of lakefront on Payette and Little Payette lakes, as well as several miles along the North Fork of the Payette River.

In its proposal, Boise firm Trident Holdings, LLC suggests that Idaho’s lands surrounding Payette Lake operate at a deficit so should be exchanged for private lands of equivalent value in northern Idaho. Trident identifies these lands as those owned by Potlatch, east of Dworshak Reservoir, near Orofino. 

Trident’s analysis fails to recognize the treasured features associated with the lake’s recreational activities, natural and scenic beauty, and pristine environment, which we believe are much more valuable than any potential development. Tourism, fishing, boating, hunting and wildlife watching on these lands also contribute significantly to the local economy, and protection of lakeshore and riparian habitat is of critical importance to Payette Lake’s water quality.

But Trident argues that the Idaho State Constitution, which mandates that the state secure the maximum possible long-term financial return, obligates the state to pursue the exchange.

In response, at its June 2020 meeting, the State Board of Land Commissioners (Land Board) pressed pause on any leasing or exchanges in the McCall area to more thoroughly consider the issues. Existing leases and auctions of cabin sites will continue to move forward, but any new leases or exchanges will not.

In the words of Idaho Governor Brad Little, a Land Board member, “this is a big hairy piece of ground with lots of conflicting issues.”

At its next meeting on July 21, the Land Board will hear a presentation from Trident reps, who are claiming a commitment to protecting public access and environmental stewardship. While that sounds great, the fact is Trident is trying to acquire these lands for development, roads and housing, and not conservation nor to preserve the quality of life that locals and visitors enjoy. They’re pitching their project as a boon to McCall. In fact, they’ve gone so far as to develop a website arguing that the best way to protect public lands is to….privatize them.

We encourage you to tune into the Land Board meeting at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, July 21. The Land Board will accept testimony on the proposal and written testimony can be submitted in advance of the meeting.

Ultimately, the state must consider the long-term value of this land. When they do, they’ll recognize there are better ways for IDL to fulfill its constitutional mandate while protecting this iconic Idaho landscape. At the end of the day, these lands are better off protected for public access, recreation, wildlife habitat and water quality for our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren than being sold and parceled off.

We encourage Idahoans to get engaged and explore solutions like expanding Ponderosa State Park and/or using the Land and Water Conservation Fund for acquisitions or easements on this iconic Idaho landscape. Take Action today!