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Idaho officials OK purchase of northern Idaho forest land

Idaho officials have approved the purchase of about 2,400 acres of forest in northern Idaho from a timber company. In another timber-related move, they approved new rules involving the sales of cedar trees that drew fierce opposition from cedar pole companies.

The Idaho Land Board’s 4-0 vote Nov. 15 to pay Potlatch Corporation $2.5 million is the first timberland purchase under the board’s new strategic reinvestment plan approved in May. The plan calls for using about $160 million from commercial real estate and residential cottage site sales to buy timberland and agricultural land.

Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, a noted critic of the state owning commercial property, said buying timberland didn’t cause the same problems.

“I really don’t see us competing with private industry or private people when buying timberland or farmland,” he said. “There’s so much. It’s perfect competition.”

The timberland east of Kamiah meets several state requirements, including that it exceed a minimum financial return of 3.5 percent. State officials say existing mature stands on the property could be harvested within five years, producing money for public schools.

The board, absent Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, who was at a conference in Hawaii, also approved on a 4-0 vote a significant change in selling cedar trees on state endowment lands.

The state currently is required to have a separate sale for cedar trees. But the board on Tuesday approved giving the Idaho Department of Lands the option of having one sale for a timber harvest that includes cedar trees.

Cedar trees have a natural resistance to water and bugs, making them ideal for outdoor uses, such as power poles or pilings, and as a result they’re significantly more valuable than other trees.

State officials say current cedar sales at the most draw two bidders and sometime only one, while sales that include cedar with other trees will attract a higher number of bidders and result in more money for public schools.

Company officials with Tacoma, Wash.-based McFarland Cascade asked the board to hold off on any decision and start the rulemaking process over in 2017. Company officials challenged studies analyzing cedar sale results, and they said the change could harm their business.

But Attorney General Lawrence Wasden noted the Land Board’s constitutional responsibility to maximize profits over the long term for public schools and other beneficiaries from endowment lands.

The new rules recommended by the board will have to be approved by lawmakers in the 2017 Legislature before taking effect.

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