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Grazers seek assurances in Lochsa trade

Lochsa Exchange allotment holders meet with Western Pacific Timber reps

Cliff Galli and Don Heckman were both outspoken during a Friday, Sept. 23 meeting between the Western Pacific Timber company and those who presently hold grazing permits on Forest Service land that WPT intends to acquire in the Lochsa Land Exchange.

Free Press/Andrew Ottoson

Cliff Galli and Don Heckman were both outspoken during a Friday, Sept. 23 meeting between the Western Pacific Timber company and those who presently hold grazing permits on Forest Service land that WPT intends to acquire in the Lochsa Land Exchange.

September 27, 2011

GRANGEVILLE -- Among 12 grazing permit holders invited to meet Friday, Sept. 23, to discuss their concerns about the Upper Lochsa Land Exchange with Western Pacific Timber (WPT) company representatives, White Bird rancher Don Heckman spoke to the core of the grazers' perspective:

"If a ranch relies on a forest allotment, it loses a lot of its value if it loses that allotment -- that's elementary," Heckman said. "Don't get me wrong, I like private management better than the Forest Service. You say it's a timber deal. There's someone that can put the language in to keep grazing access with the land."

Heckman's point reinforced a suggestion he'd offered earlier in the meeting: that conservation easements, or covenants, to protect grazing rights could be included in the exchange.

Or as Ray Stowers, also of White Bird, put it, "All we're askin' for is a method to keep us whole."

Chaired by Skip Brandt, the Idaho County Commission has long argued that keeping the county whole requires no action. But the Forest Service has already weighed no action, and prefers the "Alternative D" land exchange and purchase, which is detailed in the DEIS documents available online at http://goo.gl/zrgmr.

Because the Forest Service is likely to move ahead with the exchange in one form or another, the county commission asked the forest to consider an acre-for-acre trade to limit damage to its property tax base and timbering opportunities.

Other grazing permit holders at the meeting expressed the belief that, in the long term, the forest can keep promises to individual ranchers that a private owner could not be expected to make.

"You don't think about the Forest Service going away...(but) a private owner can change," Cliff Galli of Riggins said. "The Forest Service has been here for a hundred years."

Stowers put it to WPT land manager Brian Disney as a pair of pointed questions: "What's the longest you guys have had any piece of ground? Do you still have any of the ones you bought 20 years ago?"

Disney explained that while WPT does not hold any of its original parcels, the company has been building a "good neighbor" reputation among cattlemen in the area of its Goldendale, Wash., holdings, which WPT acquired as part of a land exchange in 2008.

As for the parts it has bought and sold?

"They were all scattered parcels," Disney said, tying the point into an explanation of how large blocks of forested land are required for the sustainable timber operations at the core of WPT's business.

At the meeting's outset, Disney introduced himself and the company by saying "We love grazers -- you guys know the benefits of grazing, for underbrush and everything else."

While the grazers' meeting was ongoing, Brandt also tended to a separate informational meeting about the exchange, which was attended by nearly 70 people. When Brandt returned to the county commission's chamber, Stowers and Heckman asked Brandt to back their request for grazing easements:

"If you want to help us, help us get covenants," Stowers said.

"We would like something more than five or six years," Heckman said.

While Disney spoke to the matter of grazing covenants, the meaning of his remarks was not clear. He referred the Free Press to WPT general counsel Andy Hawes, who clarified the company's position as follows:

"Whether or not the Forest Service would consider encumbering land before the trade is up to the Forest Service, but we're always open to possibilities," Hawes said. "Not to say that we wouldn't be open to easements, but leases and easements try to accomplish the same thing. There are concerns about continuing land use, and we think those can be resolved with leases."

The forest's evaluation of the county's acre-for-acre proposal will be concluded in late October, after which a 45-day public comment period will open. A detailed overview of the process's history and current status was published Sept. 12 in the Federal Register, http://goo.gl/SCiTJ.

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