Throughout my long career with the U.S. Forest Service, I had the honor and the opportunity to serve and to see some of America’s most beautiful wildlands. I served Idaho as first the regional forester in charge of the national forests for the southern half of the state, and then for the northern half, before moving to Washington, D.C., to become the chief of the Forest Service.
The three years I spent from 1976 through 1979 as district ranger of the Powell Ranger District in the Upper Lochsa Drainage are still vivid in my memories today. The Upper Lochsa region is a spectacular aesthetic, ecological and historic resource. The public/private checkerboard ownership of the Upper Lochsa is a historic accident that continues to jeopardize the proper management of this unique resource. As a young district ranger, I strongly believed then that the interests of all Idahoans, and all Americans would be better served if we could put the whole Upper Lochsa into federal ownership. I still believe that today, almost 40 years later.
Some months ago, the owner of almost all of the private land in the Upper Lochsa, Western Pacific Timber, circulated for public review a piece of draft legislation authorizing a land exchange to put the Upper Lochsa in federal ownership. The proposal would be for an equal value exchange, with almost all of the lands in Idaho County, and with easements on the land that would go into private ownership to maintain historical recreational and other uses of these tracts. A lot of good thinking and stakeholder input went into the draft. An exchange makes a lot of sense, particularly since: (1) federal funds to acquire additional lands are in very short supply; (2) additional federal ownership in Idaho County will erode an already fragile local tax base.
It’s my understanding that Idaho Sen. Jim Risch scheduled a public meeting in Grangeville (Tuesday, Nov. 24) to discuss the new proposal. As of this writing, I had made plans to be there. I hope Congress and the affected stakeholders move this proposal forward quickly. I am one Forest Service retiree — no longer on the federal payroll, or anyone else’s — who always thought this is a good idea.
Dale Bosworth lives in Missoula, Mont.