The following article appeared in the Idaho Mountain Express for
October 13, 2004. View the original article online at
Cape Horn land grant raises hackles
By Greg Stahl, Express Staff Writer
Among the federal land that would be released from
public ownership for potential development in Rep. Mike Simpson’s
economic development and wilderness bill are 960 acres of alpine meadows
and woodland at the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.
Arguably, Cape Horn includes some of the more breathtaking country in
Idaho. In the spring, wildflowers pepper alpine meadows with
impressionistic splashes of color while the Sawtooth Mountains loom to
the south. In the winter, sweeping fields of snow drift through stands
At 6,600 feet above sea level, it is cold, remote and difficult country,
and it is home to dozens of wildlife species, including threatened gray
wolves and chinook salmon, deer and elk.
If you’ve ever driven on Highway 21 between Stanley and Lowman, you’ve
seen it. It is memorable country, and it most certainly would be easily
marketable for high-end home sites.
But for those who oppose the Cape Horn land grant to Custer County, that
is precisely the problem. As it is, the breathtaking area belongs to all
“Maybe it’s good that he chose such an inappropriate area,” said Lynne
Stone, executive director of the Boulder White Clouds Council. “I just
have visions of people complaining about coyotes and elk, and people
complaining about animals eating the little blue spruces they will bring
In all, Simpson is proposing to grant between eight and 10 tracts of
land to Custer County, Blaine County and Stanley. In sum, the land could
total about 2,000 acres, but so far the 960 acres at Cape Horn, and to a
lesser extent the 162 acres in and around Stanley, are what have people
“We’re giving away sacred places to try to protect others,” Stone said.
“Valley Creek (where 68 acres would be given to Stanley) and Cape Horn
are just as precious as any place in the White Clouds. What will we do
with the Pioneer Wilderness when it’s proposed? Will we give away 1,000
acres of Bear Valley? Where does this idea end?”
No sooner had Simpson submitted his Central Idaho Economic Development
and Recreation Act in Congress last Friday, Oct. 8, than a group of
Stanley-area residents began circulating a petition calling for Congress
to abandon the measure.
“This is an unacceptable impact on elk and salmon,” said Dave Kimpton,
an elk hunter, angler and retired ranger for the Stanley region of the
Sawtooth National Recreation Area. “We need to have a solid tax base,
but you don’t want to be giving up critical wildlife habitat. Congress
already has PILT (payment in lieu of taxes) to fund county government
and needs to use that tool.”
The petition’s sponsors oppose the “public land giveaways” and said they
intend to urge Congress to address rural Idaho’s economic woes by
funding PILT more completely.
PILT was created in 1976 to pay counties for nontaxable federal lands
within their borders to help offset the local government’s tax base.
But the funding formula favors counties with higher populations and has
only been funded at about two-thirds the level allowed by law. In the
past five years, Congress failed to pay Custer County more than $1
million. In 2004 the Congressional PILT payment to Custer County was
$391,379, compared with the $990,619 that went to well-to-do Blaine
Custer County, located in central Idaho’s Salmon River country, has
about 4,300 residents and covers an area of nearly 3 million acres. Most
of the land, 96 percent, is owned by the federal government, and that is
precisely why Simpson is proposing to turn some federal land over to
private development. More private land would give the county an ongoing,
more consistent revenue stream in the form of property taxes.
Lindsay Slater, Simpson’s chief of staff, defended Cape Horn as a viable
location for development.
“Essentially we had two criteria when we were looking at lands that
would go to Custer County: It couldn’t be roadless and it shouldn’t have
any Endangered Species Act issues,” he said. “This area has roads
running right through it. It has power lines running through it, and it
has been logged. It was identified by the Custer County Commissioners
early on as a good site.”
Slater said the land, which is on the Salmon-Challis National Forest,
would be given to Custer County with no strings attached.
But those who initiated the petition pointed out that the 960 acres at
Cape Horn are near Marsh Creek, one of the only locations where wild
chinook salmon, a threatened species under the ESA, return to Idaho.
“This is one of the few native runs of salmon in the United States not
contaminated by hatcheries,” Kimpton said. “Imagine several thousand
people in these fragile meadows and marshes. The impact on fish and
wildlife will be devastating.”
Marie Osborn was the nurse practitioner who staffed the Salmon River
Emergency Clinic in Stanley for nearly 30 years. She is among the
Stanley residents who initiated the petition calling for increased PILT
“If the diagnosis is not enough money for Custer County government and
services, then the remedy is to fix PILT,” Osborn said. “Sacrificing our
children’s heritage and some of Idaho’s most precious places won’t fix
Custer County’s problems.”
For his part, Stanley Mayor Paul Frantellizzi said neither he nor his
city council counterparts have taken a position on the wilderness bill.
“The position we have taken is not an opinion on whether we agree or
disagree on the merits of the bill itself,” Frantellizzi said. “What we
have said is, if the bill is proposed and voted on and passes, we would
like to see some benefit coming in to the city of Stanley.
“If this happens, it will affect us, and there are differing opinions on
whether it will be a positive or negative effect. But there is no doubt
that it will affect Stanley and the surrounding community.”