Mr. Cope's Cave: What It Will Look Like When Idaho Goes Down the Drain 

I thought this was worth thinking about: Last week, Potlatch Corporation (headquartered in Spokane, Wash.) sold 172,000 acres (just under 270 square miles) of Idaho forest land to Southern Pine Plantations (headquartered in Macon, Ga.) for just under $663 an acre.

These 172,000 acres are scattered between Boise, Adams and Valley County, which, taken together, form a corridor on either side of U.S. 55 approximately 100 miles wide (in places), from the Oregon border east to Stanley (almost), stretching from (just north) of Boise to (just north) of McCall.

Until 2007, the land belonged to the Boise-Cascade lumber company and, before 1957, I presume it belonged to its forerunner, the Boise-Payette Lumber Company, which was born in 1914 from the merger of two other smallish lumber companies that go back as early as 1903.

Whether or not one of those earlier, smaller companies owned this 270 square-mile chunk of Idaho from their beginnings, I assumed someone owned it before 1905, when Teddy Roosevelt set the greatest share of central Idaho aside as the Sawtooth National Forest, to be administered by the (then) newly-created United States Forest Service. In 1908, the western part of that Sawtooth National Forest was re-designated as the Boise National Forest. By that time, I doubt if any such great swaths of forested land were up for sale to anyone, having become part of the publicly-owned forest reserve. After all, that 270 square miles represents an area (just under) 3 1/2 times the size of the entire city of Boise, at (just over) 80 square miles.

Now, that 270 square miles belongs to an investment company from Georgia that unashamedly uses the word "plantation" in its name. A quick look at the Southern Pines Plantation website shows they have many properties on the market—the predominant share of them down South—ranging in lots from 250 acres to 7600 acres (give or take) in size, and priced from $1,500 to $4,500 (give or take) per acre.

While the descriptions that accompany the ads often mention the timber on them, the hunting potential seems to be the strongest selling point. And it is my guess that the enticement of "great hunting" is not an open invitation for the general run-of-the-mill Cabelas shopper to come in and bag their bucks for free.

Nor is there any stipulation within the ads that the lands are not available for purchase by French corporations. Or Colombian cartels. Or Russian billionaires. Or the government of China, looking to invest in American forest land. Or Wall Street hedge fund managers, looking to develop exclusive hunting resorts to which they can invite sympathetic senators and Supreme Court judges and other hedge fund managers to come and shoot things to their hearts' desire (while general, run-of-the-mill Idahoans can only look on in envy of those rich and powerful enough to be there), and to which the local employees (who were initially happy to see the land developed for the employment opportunities they'd been promised) have to commute from farther and farther away as they can no longer afford to live in the surrounding towns where they were born and grew up and where their parents are buried—(think "Sun Valley").


On another note: Last week a former legislator (from my hometown of Meridian, unsurprisingly) had a guest opinion in the local daily on how inevitable it is that Idaho's public lands will end up under the management of state officials, once the federal agencies of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have been discredited enough. This legislator, former state Sen. Russell Fulcher, stresses how great it will be for Idaho's economy (and the average earnings of general, run-of-the-mill Idahoans—ha ha), when the Idaho boys take the reins of the resources available within our state.

Just yesterday, the local daily reported that of the lands entrusted to the state of Idaho when Idaho became a state (1890), 41 percent (including those 270 square miles, no doubt) has already been sold off into private hands. Since the year 2000 alone, 100,000 acres have been taken out of the public domain.

When he is not finagling to accommodate the interests of privatization as a once-poobah in the Idaho Legislature, Russell Fulcher is a commercial real estate developer.
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