Crony Capitalism: Thriving In Idaho – The Clagstone Meadows Rip-off


Idaho legislators are crazy about giving our hard earned tax money away because ‘Crony Capitalism’ is alive and way too well in Idaho! Idaho’s legislature just approved funding for $7 million dollars of taxpayers’ money for a project named Clagstone Meadows, a conservation easement on about 12,000 acres near Athol, in Bonner County, given to Stimson Lumber Co. under the Idaho Forest Legacy Program. And it was nowhere near necessary!

Last week our Idaho legislature passed an appropriation bill which contains $2 million from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) budget and a whopping $5 million from the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) budget. Stimson Lumber Company, a private company, is the recipient of these funds for a conservation easement in south central Bonner County on approximately 13,000 acres they own. The above two agencies and special interest environmental groups have aggressively pursued the plan for an easement allowing foot traffic on a portion of the property.

Taxpayers should not have had to pay a private company millions of dollars, with the company retaining ownership, and sellers’ rights, with the public being given limited access to the property!

FACTS AND INSIGHT FROM REPRESENTATIVE HEATHER SCOTT

The passage of this appropriation bill for this easement could have unknown lasting effects to the County, its tax base and funding for County services.

  • This appropriation was rushed for quick passage while the easement was in a draft form only. All Forest Legacy Program projects (administered by the Forest Service) require local government coordination and cooperation on these types of easements (your county), but Bonner County Commissioners were never contacted by IDL, IDFG, USFS, Stimson Lumber Company or any other agency regarding this proposed easement action with any reasonable notice prior to the public hearing.
  • To further complicate matters, they were denied a copy of the easement upon request and they had to do a FOIA public records request eventually to get documents and a public access management plan (PAMP). This document had virtually little time to be reviewed, and there was little coordination with the County! The lack of cooperation and coordination exhibited by the Forest Service, Idaho Department of Lands, and Idaho Department of Fish and Game when dealing with Bonner County Commissioners is unacceptable.
  • On paper it seemed like a great idea until one realized that there was no reason our public money should pay for it. Stimson could either have donated their land to the County and took a tax deduction or they could have allowed public access and obtained an easement on its own without the use of public funds. This appropriation is a great deal for the private company because they get to keep their land, deny access to part of their land, continue to log and manage their land, and if they choose, sell their land.
  • Is it an appropriate use of public funds (Forest Legacy funds – generated from the sale of resources on public lands; Pittman-Robertson Act funds – generated from sale of firearms and ammunition) to pay a private corporation $7 million for a Conservation easement to allow limited public access and to preserve the “unique wetland and forested habitats found there” which the corporation could do for free? The easement will allow them to have the option to continue to generate income (timber harvest) on these easement lands and to carve out selected areas that are off limit to the public.
  • Idaho Department of Fish and Game sold this as a “win” for sportsmen to have access for hunting, trapping and fishing as well as helping protecting big game habitat on this 13,000 acre parcel. The concerns that were not addressed were that there were no mechanisms for prioritizing recreation types or insurances in place and that hunting and trapping will not be allowed when conflicts arise between recreation like hunting, trapping or fishing and other recreational activities such as jogging, birding, hiking, biking, etc.
  • Does this type of public payment for private lands set a bad precedence fiscally for the State of Idaho? We are already a welfare state to the feds and should we not be spending public funding on more pressing issues? What precedence does this set for the State and future easement appropriations?
  • IDFG claims it is preservation issue of a “unique area, not property rights. What is the true agenda?
  • No economic feasibility study was presented to the impacts to county services such as EMS, Sheriff, road maintenance, fire suppression, property tax income, and neighboring land owners.

WHAT YOU HEARD FROM THE ENVIRONMENTALISTS AND SUPPORTERS:

  • This is a property rights issue and the owner should have the right to do with their property as they wish. ResponseThen why did we giving Stimson Lumber $ 7 million dollar? Why, if they wanted to set up an easement on their property and allow foot traffic, didn’t they write it up and go to the county office and file it. What was the hidden agenda behind the big payoff?
  • There are no state taxes being used to support the project and that all of the funding is private or federal pass through funding. ResponseWhere does government get its money?
  • If Clagstone Conservation Easement does not go through the Funds from the Forest Legacy Grant will go back and go to another worthy piece of land and we will lose our opportunity to preserve our way of life for future generations. ResponseThis project is a high priority location for the Y2Y project. The Y2Y project is working on strategy throughout the North Idaho region to return lands for wild animal corridors so they can roam freely without human conflict. ***see below https://y2y.net/work/how-protect-connect-inspire/private-lands

WHAT Y2Y IS DOING

Purchasing private land has been identified as a key strategy to restore wildlife connectivity between three

Y2Y priority areas – Central Canadian Rocky Mountains (CCRM), the Cabinet-Purcell Mountain Corridor

(CPMC) and the Crown of the Continent (COC) – and across the US-Canada border.

The CCRM and COC contain important protected areas that provide core habitat for wildlife. The CCRM, for example, has the longest stretch of protected land (354 miles/ 570 km) in the entire Yellowstone to Yukon region. And the COC comprises the trans-boundary Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park among others. These large protected areas, however, are separated by private land as well as the busy Highway 3, which runs east-west.

— Unquote representative Heather Scott

AND THEN THERE WAS SENATOR SHAWN KEOUGH

Redoubt News reports, “…Senator Shawn Keough (Republican, District 1) is co-chair of the most powerful legislative committee in Boise, the aforementioned Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee (JFAC). Many people feel she could potentially benefit from this agreement in the coming elections, due to her many years of working in the timber industry and her multiple connections within the industry. Keough tells the Spokesman Review that she believes this is a ‘win, win situation.'”

Oh really? It should be noted that Senator Shawn Keough was in the vanguard of pushing this bill through the legislature. Her voting record as measured by the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Freedom Index has a current voting index score of 0 and her previous scores have consistently been the worst or near the bottom in her previous voting records. When will her constituents wake up to her special interests priorities and pull the plug on her?

Good job, Heather Scott. You fought a good fight.