The Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) released a draft strategy for 5,478 acres of endowment lands surrounding or within the city of McCall. Idaho's constitution mandates these lands be managed to secure the maximum financial return to endowment beneficiaries. The Payette Endowment Lands Strategy looks at the use classification of endowment lands within the McCall Designated Area of Impact and how they relate to current property values, county land use plans, asset management strategies and anticipated land uses. IDL used this information to categorize lands into three tiers with associated timelines for management actions. Some of these management actions include disposal or exchange of parcels that are currently accessible to the public, including shoreline of Payette Lake.
Last year, Trident Holdings LLC informally proposed to exchange 28,000 acres of endowment lands near McCall, in exchange for timberland in north Idaho. This draft proposal was met with unanimous opposition from the public at the November meeting of the Idaho Board of Land Commissioners. The Idaho BHA chapter provided remote testimony during the virtual meeting urging the land board to pursue alternatives to exchange and development. One of these options is a conservation-based alternative that retains key parcels in IDL's portfolio while conserving public access, clean water and healthy fish and wildlife habitat. Multiple stakeholders have been engaged with the Land Board to find solutions that conserve these values while fulfilling the state's constitutional mandate.
Under IDL's current Asset Management Plan, endowment lands in the analysis area are managed under several primary use classifications: timber, grazing, commercial real estate and residential real estate. While other uses are permitted, the primary use guides the management of those lands. IDL has determined they need to explore options for a "higher and better use" for some of these parcels. Rising property values, increasing development and conflicting land uses have prevented the historic use class of these lands from providing revenue consistent with current market values. IDL has identified these lands as potential "transition lands" and has established timelines and strategies for parcels in each tier.
Tier 1- Planned Transition
- High probability of transitioning in the next 1-5 years
- Have a significant gap between revenue generation and current land values
- Generally adjacent to development, road networks, utilities etc.
-New or traditional leases
Tier 2- Probable Transition
- Probability of transitioning within 5-10 years
- Similar to Tier 1 but in need of more planning for access/egress, platting and infrastructure capacity
- Disparities with land value compared to current revenue generation
- Continue current leases or seek new ones
- Continue to assess market conditions and coordinate with local officials
Tier 3- Feasible Transition
- Probability of transitioning within 10-20 years
- Not currently impacted by urban uses
- Will continue to be managed under current asset classification
- Continue coordination with local officials
-Re-assess market value every 1-5 years for transition potential
Tier 4-Transition Not Planned
- IDL will continue managing these lands under the current asset classification for the next 10-20 years
- Find opportunities to increase revenue under current uses
So What Does Transition Mean for Hunting, Angling and Public Access?
The 5,478 acres of endowment lands in the analysis area adjoin an additional 23,000 acres of endowment lands between Payette Lake and Little Payette Lake to the north and east of McCall. Most of these lands provide access to the Payette National Forest. These areas are currently accessible to the public and provide numerous opportunities for recreation, centered around a community that relies heavily on Idaho's $7.8 billion outdoor recreation economy. Some of the parcels identified for potential disposal contain the last remaining undeveloped shoreline of Payette Lake. How will new roads, development, septic systems and additional infrastructure affect the water quality of the lake? How will habitat fragmentation impact fish and wildlife? The state also has a duty to uphold these resources managed in the public trust.
While we support IDL's strategy for maintaining the large, forested parcels (Tier 4) in IDL's portfolio, there are questions as to why they have established an expedited process to liquidate lands with rapidly appreciating values. The plan also identifies potential to diversify revenue generation and create additional asset classes (recreation, conservation, water quality) to supplement current returns. IDL needs additional time to work with engaged stakeholders to develop appropriate mechanisms that facilitate asset diversification. Traditional asset classes like timber and grazing can be combined with conservation easements/leases, recreation leases or other options that are still currently evolving. A local advisory group would help IDL navigate future land management decisions consistent with county and municipal planning processes.
The community around McCall is actively engaged with IDL and the Land Board to craft creative, long-term solutions. The newly formed Payette Endowment Lands Alliance and the Payette Land Trust have been putting their heads together with conservation groups and community leaders to find a path forward. Extending the current moratorium on leasing until the lands strategy has incorporated additional asset potential will allow the land board to slow down, collaborate and make prudent decisions with their holdings.
What Precedent Does This Set For Idaho's 2.5 Million Acres of Endowment Lands?
If you have spent any time roaming around in Idaho's vast deserts, mountains and forests, you've probably kicked a rock on endowment lands without even knowing it. The southern half of the state is primarily managed for grazing, and timber is the primary asset class in the northern part of the state. Lands in central Idaho commonly fall under both asset classes. Idaho is seeing explosive population growth along with the fastest growing real estate market in the nation. While endowment lands consistently appreciate in real estate value, timber and cattle markets are constantly fluctuating. Traditional revenue sources may not have the potential to compete with development interests. The model the Land Board is mandated to follow has not evolved much since 1890, when Idaho was admitted to the union and received it's original land grants from the federal government. New, innovative solutions and public involvement are necessary to ensure Idaho citizens and the endowment beneficiaries will benefit from these lands for generations to come.
Trident Holdings has recently submitted a formal application that would exchange over 16,000 acres, including the above mentioned endowment lands, for private timber lands near Orofino (these lands have not been identified at this time). The exchange would privatize lands currently available to the public and open them up for potential development. While not as extensive as the original 28,000 acres Trident identified last year, most of the high value acreage was included. Some of the most valuable real estate in McCall, currently assessed as timber lands, would be exchanged at a value that is not commensurate with current or expected market conditions. How will the Land Board's strategy and Trident's exchange application influence future management of endowment lands in your neck of the woods? What options for development occur on remote state lands that aren't renowned resort destinations, far from an engaged citizenry?
How Can the Public Stay Engaged?
Idaho BHA is continuing to work with stakeholders, IDL and the Land Board to find a path forward. We collaborated with the Idaho Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership to submit comments to the Land Board addressing these issues. We commend the Land Board for initiating a public process that they are not technically mandated to do. Endowment lands do not require public involvement or analysis through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as actions on federal lands do.
The planning and implementation of management actions are still evolving. If you would like to provide comments to the Land Board regarding the Payette Lands Strategy, they are accepting comments through March 1. Brief, substantive comments to the Land Board will help guide management decisions. Below are some key points to mention:
- Provide your name, where you live and thank IDL for the opportunity to comment.
- Slow Down! The constitutional mandate requires maximizing long-term financial return. Why does the strategy have to be a real estate plan that establishes means for liquidating rapidly appreciating values.
- Work with stakeholders, local, regional and national land trusts to create a model for conservation easements on endowment lands. Conservation easements provide a market-based financial return, while maintaining traditional revenue sources like grazing and logging. Recreational leases can also be added to the asset portfolio, thus providing sustainable long-term returns.
- Consider the cumulative impacts to other trust responsibilities such as water quality, fish and wildlife resources. Open space, clean air, clean water and access to abundant public lands, waters and wildlife are what drives the same markets responsible for the rapid appreciation of endowment lands.
- Consider how this strategy may be applied to other endowment lands in the state that could potentially be "underperforming".
Submit Your Comments HERE