The Bonner County Commission rescinded a letter signed by two against the purchase of an easement on 13,000 acres of Stimson Lumber Co. forest land at a meeting Tuesday.
Commissioners voted 3-0 to rescind the letter that they recognized came during a meeting that violated the Idaho Open Meetings Act. But the letter had to desired effect, prompting lawmakers to pull from the floor the Idaho Department of Lands and Idaho Department of Fish and Game budgets that included the $7 million in pass-through federal funds for the purchase.
Earlier Tuesday the Legislature's Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee pulled the $5 million in funding for Department of Lands and the $2 million for Fish and Game for the Forest Service's Forest Legacy Program, which funds easements that protect wildlife habitat and keep forest lands from being developed. Co-Chairwoman Maxine Bell, a Jerome Republican, said a separate budget bill, for the Forest Legacy funds could be introduced depending on the outcome from Bonner County and if JFAC meets again.
More than 90 people came to the meeting split between supporters and opponents to the purchase of the easement, which would keep the land as it is now paying taxes but allow public access. Opponents said they don't want taxpayer funds to be paid to private property owners.
Stimson Lumber Co., which employs 200 workers in the timber industry there, got approval from Bonner County in 2006 to develop 13,000 acres of timber, lakes and wetlands into 1,200 homes, condos and an 18-hole golf course known as Clagstone Meadows. But wildlife and state officials in 2014 offered instead to buy the development rights to the lands using a federally funded Forest Legacy program that would keep the property in private hands and taxes flowing to the county.
The land would be paid for with federal dollars and private funds; the development rights would be held by the state of Idaho, giving it control.
Supporters say providing incentive to landowners to voluntarily protect wildlife habitat and other national public priorities is a better approach than placing regulations on the use of the land.