Spokane Journal of Business

Inland Northwest Land Conservancy opens office in Cd’A

Organization places greater focus on North Idaho lands

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The Inland Northwest Land Conservancy recently opened an office in downtown Coeur d’Alene at 418 E. Lakeside Drive.

The Spokane-based organization’s physical expansion into the Lake City is expected to boost efforts to acquire natural lands for management and preservation purposes in North Idaho, conservancy officials say.

“With a stronger presence in Coeur d’Alene, we’re working on several cool projects with willing landowners on the scale of hundreds and thousands of acres to protect important natural spaces in North Idaho,” says Chris DeForest, senior conservationist with the organization. “So things are really scaling up.”

INLC will hold an informal open house 6-8 p.m. June 6, at the Coeur d’Alene office.

With a mission to conserve, care for, and connect with lands and waters essential to life in the Inland Northwest, INLC has been working on conservation projects in Idaho since 1997, when it joined forces with landowners Wes and Gertie Hanson to preserve 158 acres of mostly natural timberland located above Lake Coeur d’Alene’s Cougar Bay, just south of the outlet where the Spokane River begins.

Since its founding in 1993, the INLC has worked to protect over 23,000 acres and 125 miles of shoreline. Of those, roughly 3,300 acres are in Kootenai County, says Carol Corbin, INLC’s philanthropy and communications director.

“Our projects represent beautiful and unique natural places that are home to forests, meadows, creeks, and rivers that help make up the mosaic unique to the greater Coeur d’Alene-Rathdrum-Hayden area,” Corbin says. “The Coeur d’Alene office is meant to be a hub connecting conservancy staff with the Kootenai County community.”

The INLC has a staff of nine that works out of the downtown Spokane office, at 35 W. Main. Corbin says employees will work from the North Idaho office as needed. 

Growing support has led to the organization’s largest-ever operating budget this year of $1.1 million in unrestricted funding to pursue its preservation efforts.

According to the INLC’s latest budget, about half of the organization’s revenue comes from individual donors. Another 35% are from family foundations, mostly in the form of land easement agreements. Federal grant funding represents 13% of the organization’s funding. 

Some 80% of INLC’s funding is appropriated for new land protection and acquisition as well as stewardship of existing INLC-managed land. Operations account for 20%, according to the organization’s financial report.

Coeur d’Alene resident and INLC land protection director Mike Crabtree has long been an advocate for a stronger voice in North Idaho.

“I’m so excited to be more connected to the North Idaho community through our presence in Coeur d’Alene,” he says. “Our Coeur d’Alene office will help us tell that story while focusing on the important work to come.”

Explosive growth in Kootenai County and the unprecedented development that followed prompted the INLC to increase its North Idaho visibility and availability, conservancy officials say.

In the past decade, Kootenai County's population grew 29.5%—to nearly 180,000 in 2021 from 138,860 in 2010, according to the latest available U.S. Census Bureau data.

“Land is getting snapped up for residential building at an alarming rate, and (INLC) saw the need to get ahead of it and make sure we’re protecting the places that need to be protected,” Corbin says.

Lands protected, managed, and maintained by the INLC are privately owned. In many cases, the property owners donate an easement to the organization in a transaction involving attorneys, appraisers, and tax consultants as there are some tax benefits to the land deal.

DeForest emphasizes that virtually all landowners involved with INLC have one goal: to preserve their property in its natural state.

That’s what prompted Wes and Gertie Hanson to seek a relationship with the INLC 26 years ago. The couple wanted to preserve the natural state of their property above Cougar Bay. It’s land that developers were hungry for, Wes Hanson says.

Gertie died in 1998. She was the fifth generation to hold the land under her maiden name Carder.

Wes Hanson, 76, said the decision to work with the INLC to preserve the land was simple.

“It’s called multigenerational love of land,” says the retired English teacher, who has lived on the property for 49 years.

“Back when things really started developing, the family (became) aware of the sprawl and wanted to make sure the land remained undeveloped,” Hanson says.

The Hansons worked out a conservation easement with INLC that protects the land from development in perpetuity.

“Cougar Bay is such a wonderful wildlife sanctuary, and it seemed such a shame to start crowding it with houses all around it,” Hanson says.

The protection of natural areas like Cougar Bay extends far beyond Lake Coeur d’Alene’s coveted northwestern bay, DeForest says.

“Our history in North Idaho reaches beyond the Cougar Bay area to the Coeur d’Alene River corridor and with private landowners throughout the county, including near Silverwood and Rathdrum,” he says.

The organization also has been involved in the protection of 3.5 miles of lake shores and major streams in North Idaho, DeForest adds.

Corbin says INLC will remain focused in Coeur d’Alene on preserving lands and watersheds and working with landowners to continue its mission.

“As development pressures continue, we are really starting to lean on the North Idaho region to work with us,” she says. 

Crabtree says the new downtown Coeur d’Alene office is a good fit.

“It’s a central location for business, entertainment, and collaboration for Coeur d’Alene and Kootenai County, making it the perfect home base for the conservancy to continue to build capacity and partner on projects in the Panhandle,” he says.

It’s those partnerships that are critical to INLC’s continued success, Corbin says.

“Every day, through the partnerships we form with generous landowners, ground remains undeveloped because of a conservation partnership between the conservancy and the private landowner,” she says. “And these examples only scratch the surface of the projects that have been completed, supporting efforts to keep Idaho, Idaho.”

  • Keith Erickson

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