With September’s cooling temperatures (I promise…they’re around the corner), cottonwood and aspen leaves start to turn color, garden harvests are in full swing, and on September 14th, the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) will auction Payette Lake’s iconic Cougar Island to the highest bidder

The privatization of Cougar Island and additional development would threaten water quality in Payette Lake, diminish the lake’s viewsheds, and disrupt the island’s ecosystem and wildlife. In response to ongoing threats to our public lands like this, ICL proudly helped found United Payette (UP) — a broad coalition of organizations and individuals committed to conserving the endowment lands that surround Big and Little Payette Lakes. In an effort to save Cougar Island from privatization and development, United Payette has mounted a concerted effort and fundraising campaign to become a qualified bidder with the intent of purchasing the island at auction.

Over the past year, ICL, UP, the City of McCall, Valley County, and other partners have identified alternatives that could allow IDL to retain Cougar Island and provide time for concerned stakeholders to raise the funds needed to purchase Cougar Island at auction. Unfortunately, IDL decided that there is no better time than now to dispose of a piece of property that no longer meets the Department’s financial needs.

The 14-acre Cougar Island is divided into 5 parcels, one of which is currently leased and has a home on the property. IDL intends to first auction the island as a whole, which has an appraised value of $10 million and includes the improvements on the leased parcel. Following the auction of the entire island, IDL will consider bids for each parcel — accepting whichever option brings the most revenue. 

UP’s goal is to purchase the entire island (with UP partner Payette Land Trust acting as the collaborative’s bidding agent and agreeing to hold the deed should we prove successful) and sell the current leaseholder their parcel with the enactment of a conservation easement for the whole island — restricting further development and conserving the island in its current condition.  

If purchasing the entire island isn’t possible, UP and the Payette Land Trust (PLT) hope to purchase contiguous parcels with the available funds. Owning a single parcel would not prove effective nor achieve meaningful conservation results. UP and the PLT have currently raised $1.3 million, leaving a gap of $3 million that would allow us to effectively conserve the majority of Cougar Island.

If you have ever boated on Payette Lake or spent time in McCall, you’ve probably seen or visited Cougar Island. Perhaps you have a family story that goes along with that visit, or maybe you watched osprey nest while drifting along the island’s shores in your boat. Help us keep those memories alive along with the opportunity to make more of them in the future! You can make a difference by donating to United Payette on their website, www.unitedpayette.com, or you can pledge to make a significant donation through the Payette Land Trust (craigutter@payettelandtrust.org).  

If you have questions or would like to speak with someone, please contact ICL’s Conservation Associate Randy Fox at (208) 345-6933 ext 510 or PLT’s Executive Director, Craig Utter at (208) 634-4999. Together, we can protect this iconic place and the experiences it holds for now and future generations.