BOISE, Idaho (AP) — If Idaho spent the remaining $150 million of the estimated $240 million it’s getting from the sale of residential and commercial real estate, it could buy another 130,000 acres of timberland, Gov. Brad Little was told Thursday.
Little and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, both Republicans, took in that information and more as part of a subcommittee examining financial options for the Idaho Land Board.
Spending money to buy land is fraught with political risks. Private entities complain about unfair competition from the state. But state-owned land is public land open for hiking, hunting and camping. The state also makes money off land in a deal with Idaho Fish and Game.
“If you want to blame somebody, blame Congress,” Little said after the meeting. “From the get-go, the state has been in the land business.”
Idaho received about 5,600 square miles of endowment lands from the federal government when it became a state in 1890 to fund specific beneficiaries, mainly K-12 public schools.
The five-member Land Board oversees about 3,800 square miles the state still has and is constitutionally mandated to get the greatest return over the long run. The board in recent years has distributed about $80 million annually.
Thursday’s meeting included a presentation from Darrell Early of the Idaho attorney general’s office explaining the board’s constitutional and statutory limitations. A previous board lost a federal court case after making a deal involving grazing leases to ranchers, straying outside those boundaries, Early said.
The meeting also included a presentation from Janet Becker-Wold of Callan, the board’s financial adviser, who noted board investments have done well in the last decade: “You’re held up as the model for land trusts in terms of how you balance these risks out,” she said.
Money from endowment lands has also been invested in the stock market through the land grant endowment fund that also generates income. The fund had a value of $2.3 billion in August.
Money from the sale of residential and commercial properties goes into a land bank fund. It must be spent within five years, or it goes into an investment fund and can no longer be used to buy land.
The land bank fund currently has about $115 million, with another $35 million expected with upcoming sales.
The board previously spent $50 million from the fund to buy 36,000 acres of timberland, while another $46 million has gone into the investment fund.
David Groeschl of the Idaho Department of Lands told the subcommittee that using all the remaining money to buy timberland would increase the state’s timberland holdings by 10%. He also said the timberland the state recently bought will add about $3 million annually to state lands revenues.