Bedroll to a Mountainside
As Idaho Senator Frank Church put it:
"The great purpose is to set aside a reasonable part of the vanishing wilderness, to make certain that generations of Americans yet unborn will know what it is to experience life on undeveloped, unoccupied land in the same form and character as the Creator fashioned it... It is a great spiritual experience. I never knew a man who took a bedroll into an Idaho mountainside and slept there under a star-studded summer sky who felt self-important that next morning. Unless we preserve some opportunity for future generations to have the same experience, we shall have dishonored our trust."
Privatization followed by commercial and residential development would change the landscape of the McCall area endowment lands forever. An increasing population in Idaho is causing increasing pressures on lands. Endowment lands have generated controversies and issues in the McCall area for years, from the sales of cottage sites and cottage properties along Big Payette Lake to Parcel G, also known as the Wedding Venue Site, along the east shore of Big Payette Lake. In 2020, a newly-formed company, Trident Holdings, proposed the idea of swapping timberlands in the northern part of the state for 28,000 acres of McCall area endowment lands. In March 2021, Trident Holdings submitted an application to the Land Board to trade 20,250 acres of the McCall Area Endowment Lands for other timbelands in the stae. It should be noted that the Idaho Constitution restricts the sale of endowment lands to 320 acres at a time and requires a public auction, but large trades of endowment lands for other lands may not have these restrictions.
The privatization and development of endowment lands would negate generations of local conservation efforts, from the advocacy that created Ponderosa State Park to recent regulations protecting Big Payette Lake. It would also cause a significant negative impact on humans, wildlife and the ecosystem, including a disruption of big game migration patterns; a degradation of water quality in the North Fork Payette watershed and Big Payette Lake, the sole drinking water source for the city of McCall as well as expansion of existing downstream water quality problems including Cascade Reservoir; a loss of land access to the public for recreation and other activities and leverage over access to other lands in the area; and a potential increase in forest fires.
The land trade has been proposed as a business venture, and making money for its investors is the company's primary purpose. Information to date has stated the developer would develop approximately 10% of the land it acquires and manage the remaining for conservation although more specific details have not been provided even though requested. Lacking details, there is absolutely no guarantee that they would stick to this, and development or over 2,000 acres of land that buffer Payette Lake is unthinkable to PELA.
A visual example of development can be seen when comparing McCall, Idaho to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Coeur d'Alene has more development along and above Lake Coeur d'Alene than McCall does above Payette Lake. The photos below provide a visual difference in development between the two.
Financial Returns Generated by the Endowment Lands
Lastly, would-be developers have claimed that the McCall area endowment lands are not making money for the endowment fund. Given that the Idaho Land Board has a constitutional duty to manage the endowment lands to maximize the long term financial returns to the beneficiaries, the record of financial performance on these lands is important.
In fact, according to publicly-available financial information, the endowment lands within the McCall Impact Zone are earning net revenues significantly higher than the state of Idaho average. There are approximately 2.5 million acres of endowment land in the state of Idaho. The FY2019 net revenue from these lands was $45,000,000, or an average of $18 per acre. (See Idaho Endowment Fund Investment Board’s Report, “Idaho Land Grant Endowment – A Report to the Citizens – 2019”).
The Idaho Department of Lands reports that for the area within the McCall Impact Zone (5,500 acres) there is a total annual gross revenue of $473,984. Applying a ratio between gross revenue and net revenue of 0.47 to this gross revenue (based on the average comparison from FY2017 – FY2019), yields a net revenue of $222,772. (This information is from the Payette Lakes Supervisory Area Summary of Land Management Revenue and Expenses, obtained from the Idaho Department of Lands). These net revenues translate to an average of $40.50 per acre. Comparing this to the state average, the McCall Impact Zone area endowment lands generate 2.25 times the state average. It should also be noted that the income from timber harvest in 28,000 acres (including the McCall Impact Zone) is expected to be offered at auction generating an additional estimated gross revenue of $9.1M over a 10-year period.