Land swap would lead to improved Black Lake

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State eyes large Cd'A River site in exchange for forest land near St. Maries

The state hopes to acquire 1,013 acres along Black Lake, the Coeur d'Alene River and the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes near Medimont to reduce pollution-related wildlife deaths and create recreational opportunities.

Through a proposed land swap, Idaho Department of Fish and Game would obtain the Black Lake site off Highway 3 in the chain lakes area owned by Minnaloosa Land Company LLC for 1,402 acres of mostly forested land the state owns 6 miles south of St. Maries in the Lindstrom Peak area.

Kathy Cousins, an IDFG biologist, said the agency has been eying Black Lake Ranch — the area marked by an expansive white vinyl fence — for several years.

"IDFG is very supportive of the proposed exchange because we believe it will provide so much with public access, hunting and fishing opportunities as well as improving wildlife habitat," Cousins said.

Cousins said wildlife deaths, including with tundra swans and other waterfowl, has been a problem in the Black Lake area due to mining waste from the Coeur d'Alene Basin and other pollution. IDFG would remediate and restore the wetland habitat for multiple species of birds.

Black Lake was placed on Idaho's list of impaired lakes in 1998 due to algae blooms and agricultural grazing.

"The (Black Lake Ranch) is a key property within the cleanup and restoration planning area for the natural resources within the lower Coeur d'Alene Basin due to its size and location," the draft Environmental Assessment of the proposed exchange states.

IDFG will hold four public meetings in mid-March on the proposed land swap. Cousins said if there are no major issues identified in the public input process, the exchange could be completed in four to six months.

Cousins said it is unclear if any funds would be exchanged in the swap because the appraisal process hasn't been completed.

"It would be a value-for-value exchange," she said.

Cousins said it appears to be a win-win because IDFG wants to improve habitat and public access to rare wetland habitats, while the land company wants to divest.

However, IDFG realizes some people have hunted and recreated on the Benewah County land, which is four disconnected parcels in the same vicinity of each other, so public input about the proposal is critical, Cousins said.

"Based on the fragmented nature of the ownership and management of the IDFG parcels, the properties currently contribute little to maintaining either big game winter range or public access in the greater landscape," the draft EA states.

Parcels fronting the St. Maries River are not proposed for the exchange or for sale and will remain in IDFG ownership to continue to provide public access to the river.

The IDFG sites in the proposed exchange south of St. Maries have been on the Fish and Game Commission's disposal list since 1990.

If the land exchange is not approved, IDFG will need to implement a timber management plan at the St. Maries sites due to wildfire danger, Cousins said.

"Some stands … have not been disrupted since IDFG began ownership in 1941, and as a consequence, disease and decay is impacting timber value," the EA sates. "In addition, increased stand densities may lead to increased threat of wildfire."

The draft EA provides more details on the proposed swap at https://idfg.idaho.gov/panhandle-2016-land-exchange.

In another exchange between IDFG and Minnaloosa last year, IDFG acquired 36 acres on Swan Lake near Black Lake in exchange for the department's 69 acres in the Freeman Lake area in Bonner County.

Company officials did not return a message seeking comment on Thursday.

If residents can't attend one of the public input meetings, written comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. on March 28 at r1fa_grants@fws.gov or mailed to Heather Hollis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program, 911 NE 11th Ave., Portland, OR 97232.

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