As we’ve reported over several months, upwards of 28,000 acres of state endowment lands surrounding the community of McCall and Payette Lake are under threat of privatization and development.

In December, the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) released a draft of its Payette Endowment Lands Strategy for public comment, which proposes a phased sell-off of nearly 400 acres of endowment lands on Cougar Island, Shellworth Island, and other lands surrounding Payette Lake and McCall.

So, what’s IDL’s plan?

The Draft Strategy considers trends in the McCall area and provides a suite of strategies to meet the Land Board’s Constitutional obligation to maximize revenues over a 20-year period.

IDL’s goals as outlined in the Draft Strategy:
1. Describe current endowment trust land in the vicinity of McCall.
2. Identify endowment trust lands characterized as “transition lands” (defined as lands with high property values and low annual revenues).
3. Determine the timeframe/tier the property falls within for next steps.
4. Describe the next steps IDL will take to consider sale of state lands.

According to the plan, Tier 1 lands include 38 acres planned for sale within 1-5 years (including Cougar Island); Tier 2 lands include 129 acres described as probable for sale within 5-10 years (including Shellworth Island); and 210 acres are identified as feasibly for sale within 10-20 years (including 181 acres of important recreation and wildlife lands on the eastside of Payette Lake).

What about the Trident Exchange proposal?

Another proposal from a private investment firm called Trident Holdings, LLC, which still has not been formally submitted to IDL, would exchange 28,000 acres of state land for an unspecified number of acres in North Idaho. The draft proposal outlines several scenarios which could include residential development on 2,800 acres surrounding Payette Lake and McCall, and donating approximately 25,200 acres back to the state, which could include additional resort or park developments.

As the Idaho Conservation League noted back in June, we have significant concerns with the Trident proposal, and public testimony at the November Land Board meeting was unanimously opposed. According to their representatives, a proposal may be submitted soon, but based on public input and the Land Board’s response the path forward for Trident is anything but clear.

What are the alternatives to selling off public land?

According to the Idaho Constitution, the Land Board, which is made up of the Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Superintendent of Public Education, and State Controller, is required to maximize revenue from state endowment lands over the long-term. This fiduciary responsibility to public schools, universities and other endowment beneficiaries is a foundation of the Land Board’s and IDL’s approach. There are other options though.

ICL, and many of the partners we are working with, will urge IDL and the Land Board to provide other options that include conservation easements, conservation leases, or other public-private approaches to retain the lands in public ownership. We’re working with both Valley County and the City of McCall to explore options to protect these lands which contribute to the area’s recreation-based economy, protect water quality, and provide access to the lake.

We’ll also ask for more time to evaluate these lands and the myriad values they provide. Idaho has owned these lands for over 100 years, and we should carefully consider the benefits these lands provide to all Idahoans. In addition to the fiduciary obligation that the state has to the endowment, the state also has Public Trust responsibilities that must be considered with regards to streams and rivers that flow into Payette Lake. Finally, we’ll be pointing out the precedent these sales could create.

After all, if lands around Payette Lake must be sold, IDL could next turn their attention to land sales along Henry’s Fork, in the Teton Basin, on the St. Joe, along the shores of Priest Lake, and in the Wood River Valley. Hundreds of thousands of acres of state lands could be on track for auction which could impact communities across the state.

What are the next steps?

IDL has extended the public comment period on their strategy through March 1. We encourage you to share your concerns and comments with IDL and the Land Board. These are public lands, and your voice should be heard!

In addition, the City of McCall is hosted a meeting on Thursday, Jan. 28, watch a recording of the meeting.

IDL also convened a focus group with representatives from local and statewide interests including conservation, timber, recreation, and city and county representatives to provide insight and guidance on their strategy. The focus group, which ICL serves on, will seek to provide consensus input to the Land Board and IDL on how to balance competing interests and concerns that influence these public lands. Here’s a link to the focus group materials and recordings.

And finally, the Land Board is expected to vote on a final Payette Endowment Lands Strategy at their March 16 meeting.

While these lands are different than national forests or BLM lands, they are still public lands and public values must be considered. Now is the time to Speak Up!