A new conservation group has formed out of McCall-area residents, outdoor recreation organizations and more in an effort to preserve state-owned land around Payette Lake that could be privatized in a proposed land swap.
Officials with United Payette announced the group’s creation on Tuesday. Members include several McCall-area stakeholders, such as Brundage Mountain ski area, Payette Land Trust, Big Payette Lake Water Quality Council and local homeowners’ associations. United Payette also includes state and national groups, including the Idaho Wildlife Federation, Idaho Conservation League, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and the Trust for Public Land.
In a news release, officials said the group “formed to spearhead a transparent and inclusive process to conserve Idaho’s endowment lands in the North Fork Payette watershed.”
Members mentioned strong local opposition to a proposed land swap, in which investment firm Trident Holdings would trade timberlands in North Idaho for about 28,000 acres in the McCall area. The swap would include several parcels of Idaho Department of Lands endowment land and Payette Lake, which the Idaho Land Board has proposed finding new uses for to maximize the parcels’ revenue. The Idaho Constitution tasks IDL with funding beneficiaries — mainly public schools — through revenue created by endowment lands.
Brian Brooks, executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, said in an interview that while the group’s main concern is the Payette Endowment Lands Strategy parcels, that’s not all United Payette will address.
“These lands around Payette Lake are prioritized because they face the biggest threat,” Brooks said.
According to the news release, United Payette is “coordinating with federal, state, county, and city government officials to help the Land Board fulfill this constitutional mandate while conserving the landscape and maintaining traditional uses for Idahoans.”
Brooks said talks with government agencies are going well.
“So far they are really responsive,” Brooks said. “They know how important these lands are to so many people.”
The Trident land swap and the Land Board’s review of the parcels has prompted outcry from locals and recreators who say the land at stake — 13 plots mainly northwest and northeast of Payette Lake — will likely be developed and lose its prized recreation opportunities and wildlife habitat.
“These lands provide for ‘a way of life’ for many Idahoans,” said Debbie Fereday, president of coalition member Payette Endowment Lands Alliance. “All my life I have lived with the forested backdrop of Payette Lake and am committed to ensure that future generations can enjoy the beauty and tranquility of our region. I can’t imagine looking out on this beautiful lake seeing luxury housing developments dotting the hillsides and lakeshores.”
Trident has promised to preserve part of the 28,000 acres for recreation, including an expansion of neighboring Ponderosa State Park. But critics are skeptical.
“People do not want to see this landscape up for continual sale,” Brooks said. “(United Payette’s solutions) would cast that jeopardy aside.”
Brooks also said, if successful, the United Payette model of uniting local interests with state and national ones could serve as a blueprint for other conservation concerns as Idaho continues to develop at a rapid rate.
The Land Board, which includes Gov. Brad Little, Secretary of State Lawerence Denney and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, is scheduled to meet again on July 20. The agenda for that meeting has not yet been made public.