By Cameron Rasmussson
About 5,000 acres of forestland near Bonners Ferry will be preserved under a conservation easement in an agreement announced Wednesday by Idaho Department of Lands officials.
Conveyed to IDL in a partnership between Hancock Timber Resource Group, The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service, the conservation easement will preserve forests for recreation, wildlife preservation and woodland management. Half of the preserved woodland is located near Hall Mountain and the other half east of McArthur Lake.
“Conservation easements and the Forest Legacy Program keep private working forests working,” said Karen Sjoquist, IDL Forest Legacy Program coordinator. “The continued use, protection and sustainability of these forests provide local jobs while protecting the social and environmental values that forests provide.”
Partnership planners identified the North Idaho acreage as prime candidates for conservation easements due to its natural beauty and vibrant natural life. The easement will establish permanent public access for hunting, hiking and berry picking while allowing land to be managed for timber harvesting, water quality protection, habitat preservation and other matters of public concern, including grizzly bear management.
“This project is a win-win for both nature and people in North Idaho,” said Toni Hardesty, state director for the Conservancy in Idaho. “These lands will continue to provide habitat for native wildlife while also maintaining jobs and providing access to the local communities.”
The U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program and The Nature Conservancy contributed funding for the conservation easement. Public funding for the legacy program derives from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, made up of royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf. The intention is that the depletion of one natural resource pays for the preservation of another, U.S. Forest Service officials said.
“The Forest Legacy Program is about protecting forest lands that are threatened by conversion to non-forest uses,” said Janet Valle of the U.S. Forest Service. “It’s about helping willing private landowners to maintain and keep their forests in active production — to benefit local economies, and preserve fish and wildlife habitat, clean water and public recreation opportunities.”
Conservation easements are a popular means of partnership between public agencies and private landowners. The easement essentially preserves the natural qualities of the land and restricts its development while maintaining its recreational qualities and income-generating timber.
“Cooperative, thoughtful agreements such as these create wins for all parties involved,” said Scott Ketchum, general manager of HTRG’s North Inland forest management operation. “Over the past three decades, we have been able to conserve and protect more than 465,000 acres of timberlands through our Sensitive Lands Program — with nearly 30 percent of the protected lands coming under conservation easements like this one.”
Bonner County was the site of another high-profile conservation easement: Clagstone Meadows. The preservation of 14,400 acres of North Idaho forestland, owned by Stimson Lumber, was seen by conservationists as a win, but the deal was criticized by some conservatives as a hand-out from the government to a private company that locked up Bonner County’s limited developable space.