Hats off to Neil LaRubbio and HCN for the quality article on federal land exchanges, which beamed some welcome sunlight into dark corners ("Big Timber games for better ground in Idaho," HCN, 9/3/12). There is fierce and widespread opposition to the fatally flawed proposed Northern Idaho Lochsa Land Exchange. Friends of the Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE), the Western Lands Project, and Friends of the Palouse Ranger District all oppose it. Thousands of informed citizens are greatly alarmed. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation wisely terminated their previous support in December 2011.
To trade away – and privatize – thousands of acres of prime national forest timberland with a highly valuable watershed, wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation values for the cut-over and denuded checkerboard parcels would be an environmental tragedy. The means absolutely do not justify the ends. To make matters worse, Tim Blixseth has a questionable record of public land deals decidedly not in the public interest. He made an end-run around an asleep-at-the-wheel Congress to acquire valuable land in the Gallatin National Forest in western Montana. The infamous Yellowstone Club bankruptcy and associated environmental, social and economic impacts resulted.
The acre-for-acre trade scenario with Idaho County is administratively illegal. Only Congress could approve it. It is highly suspicious that the Idaho Congressional delegation has stood idly by and not lifted a finger to halt this travesty early on.
We the taxpayers are footing the bill for hundreds of thousands in Forest Service salaries plus scarce human resources wasted on this boondoggle. The agency needs to admit this has been a mistake and then select the NO ACTION alternative. Any other decision will trigger forceful litigation.
Unwarranted privatization of our common natural and national heritage is the ultimate evil. Precious and irreplaceable public lands must remain in public hands – period.
Retired USFS Recreation Specialist