In June 2020, the Idaho Conservation League heard about an expansive land exchange proposal from a newly-formed private investment firm called Trident Holdings, LLC. At first, the pitch sounded almost reasonable: a private firm would swap private timberlands in North Idaho for 20,000+ acres that surround Big and Little Payette Lakes and the mountain community of McCall. Once acquired, they would transfer ~86% of those lands for an expansion of Ponderosa State Park. The remaining 2,800 acres would be developed for high-end homes, spas, lodges, and resort amenities.
The more ICL and others scratched the surface, though, the more it became apparent that the proposal could fundamentally alter the community and restrict access to the treasured lakeshores and waters of Payette Lake.
Local residents, stakeholders from across the state, and local elected officials collectively raised significant concerns with the proposal. Several groups sprang into action, including the newly-formed Payette Endowment Lands Alliance, wildlife advocates, conservation interests, the local mountain biking club, and others. In fact, the Trident proposal has attracted more than 7,500 petition (sign it today!) signatures and 1,000 letters have been submitted to the city council, county commission, and Idaho Land Board, with 99%+ opposed.
Land Board response
One by one, members of the Land Board each disclosed that Trident had come in to pitch their idea in private meetings, as High Country News described in their detailed article. And as they discussed the potential swap, Land Board Chairman and Gov. Brad Little noted “this is a big hairy piece of ground with lots of conflicting issues.” At their June 2020 meeting, the Land Board instituted a moratorium on any new exchanges or sales of state land in the vicinity of McCall while the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) prepared a strategy.
IDL issued the draft strategy, really more of a 20-year schedule for the sale of 440 acres surrounding the lake, and convened a focus group in early 2021. ICL, the City of McCall, Valley County, U.S. Forest Service, Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, and other stakeholders provided input.
In March 2021, despite significant concerns raised by the focus group, and other testimony, the Land Board approved the strategy and authorized IDL to develop protocols to begin a preliminary review of applications, including the Trident proposal. At this meeting, the Payette Land Trust also announced that they submitted a Conservation Easement proposal to permanently protect public access to over 1,000 acres along the east side of Payette Lake (Parcels G and H in the strategy)
The Trident Application
During the focus group discussions, IDL shared that the Trident Application had been received, proposing an exchange of 20,000 acres surrounding the lake for 21,000 acres in North Idaho (Clearwater, Latah, Benewah, and Shoshone counties). Unfortunately, when IDL finally released the application, 64% of the document was redacted so it was hard to get a sense of what specific lands were included.
But it’s not too hard to figure out, because there are only a handful of industrial timberland owners in North Idaho: Potlatch-Deltic, Stimson, and Molpus being some of the biggest. And in Clearwater County, Latah, and Benewah counties, where more than half the private lands are situated, Potlatch-Deltic is the largest landowner. Based on information in the application, ICL was able to determine that Potlatch-Deltic is a (very) silent partner in the proposal.
Top 3 reasons, the Trident proposal is a bad idea
So, after tracking this issue for nearly a year, engaging in conversations with partners, hearing from Trident themselves, and reviewing the application, we now have enough information to draw some conclusions about the proposal.
- Trident proposes to exchange 21,000 acres of largely-cut over private industrial timberlands in North Idaho, for 20,000 acres of some of the most valuable lands in the entire state. State-owned parcels that surround Payette Lake are worth much more than the lands in North Idaho, but Trident has basically proposed a 1:1 exchange. It’s so far below fair market value, it shouldn’t even receive full consideration.
- The Idaho Constitution, Article IX, Section 8 prohibits the sale of more than 320 acres of endowment land to any one individual or corporation. What’s being proposed is referred to as a “disguised sale” which would violate the Idaho Constitution. After all, Trident claims to have millions of investment dollars, and wants to buy Idaho Endowment Lands. They can’t, so they’re buying timberlands in North Idaho and immediately swapping them with the state. That should be a non-starter with the Land Board.
- And finally, no one, and I mean no one in McCall, or across Idaho, wants to see these lands privatized and developed. The McCall City Council, Valley County Commission, and others have cringed at the suggestion that McCall should follow the path of the Yellowstone Club and become a destination for billionaires with no trespassing signs popping up faster than you can say…Trident.
We are hopeful that the IDL and the Land Board will arrive at some of the same conclusions we did and send Trident packing. That doesn’t mean these lands are safe though. There will be other Tridents who come after Idaho’s public lands.
Working together, we can turn back these well-heeled financiers and land speculators, and instead, find lasting solutions that keep these lands in public hands. Forever.
Stay tuned to the issue, we’ll let you know about future comment opportunities, and we encourage you to learn more about how you can support Payette Land Trust’s alternative vision. A vision that promotes and protects public access for current and future generations of Idahoans.