Understanding endowment lands and land swaps in Idaho

Trident Holdings McCall landswap
Posted at 5:17 PM, Jul 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-15 09:50:00-04

IDAHO — The Idaho Department of Lands manages endowment lands across the state, which were granted to Idaho by the federal government when it became a state.

Some of this land can be found in the Treasure Valley in Caldwell or up the road in McCall.

Unlike other land managing agencies, the Department of Lands is not primarily tasked with conservation. Idaho's constitution says the Department of Lands must manage it in a way that will result in maximum long-term financial return.

The endowment lands were set aside mostly to fund public primary and secondary schools, but there are other entities that receive funding, including prisons and the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind.

The Department of Lands also manages riverbeds and lake bank, oversees forestry practices and provides fire protection and prevention. The Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is also part of the Department of Lands.

Endowment lands surrounding Boise have been in the news recently, including land in Caldwell sold at public auction about a month ago, and a proposed land swap in McCall near Payette lake.

Idaho law allows the department of lands to exchange state-owned land for private or public land of equal value rather than sell it.

"The department advises the board and we look at opportunities to maximize revenue so there are times when the department may pursue a land exchange on its own, there are other times when landowners might approach the department with an idea that could benefit the beneficiaries," Scott Phillips, the Policy and Communications Chief for the Department of Lands said.

This is what happened with the proposed land swap in McCall.

"The Idaho Department of Lands last may receive an application for a land exchange covering approximately 21,000 of endowment land in the McCall area to be exchanged for roughly the same amount of acreage of timberland from the northern portion of the state," Phillips said.

He also said land swaps aren't new or uncommon.

"Historically the Department of Lands on behalf of the Idaho State Board of Land Commissioners has worked on many land exchanges so the concept of land exchange is not new," Phillips said.

This is just one of the ways the Department of Lands makes money for public schools and other beneficiaries.

"Sometimes we're selling timber which is our greatest revenue generator. Other times there are parcels of land when it makes sense to sell those at market at auction and take that money and either acquire new property or invest it in the permanent fund where it generates interest in perpetuity for the beneficiaries," Phillips said.

It's unclear what the exact next steps in the proposed land swap in McCall, but Trident Holdings has submitted its application and the board of land commissioners is reviewing it.