- Associated Press - Friday, May 13, 2016

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) - U.S. Sen. Jim Risch says he will not push for legislation that would authorize a proposed upper Lochsa land trade due to public opposition.

The Idaho Republican sent a letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell on Thursday saying he would drop the proposal by Western Pacific Timber Co. that would swap about 39,000 acres of its land near Lolo Pass for Forest Service land east of Grangeville, The Lewiston Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1XoTYr7).

Risch has been considering Western Pacific’s bill since 2014, but members of the public have been outspoken in their criticism of the plan. Detractors said the plan would lead to fences, no-trespassing signs and a loss of their favorite close-to-home hunting, camping and berry picking spots.

In his letter, Risch said as the land in question is a checkerboard of federal and private land, the swap doesn’t seem possible at this time.

“A critical mass of consensus is essential to resolving this issue. That does not exist now and is not even close at this time. Until substantial consensus can be achieved, a legislated exchange is not an option I can pursue,” he wrote.

Forest Service officials said they are reviewing Risch’s letter.

“We appreciate the time Sen. Risch’s office and the Idaho County commissioners have spent on this issue. We look forward to our continued cooperation as we work to find solutions that benefit the communities and this important watershed,” said David Smith, director of public and governmental relations at the agency’s northern region headquarters in Missoula, Mont.

Western Pacific acquired the land from Plumb Creek Timber Co. in 2005 and announced its desire to trade it to the Forest Service for parcels more useful for timber management. A 2010 draft proposal considered trading isolated parcels of federal land scattered across a number of northern Idaho counties, but Idaho County commissioners objected.

In 2013, Risch and fellow Idaho Republicans, Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Raul Labrador, asked the agency to stand down from the exchange so they could pursue legislation authorizing a swap.

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Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com

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