KEA Board member Wes Hanson provides this background piece on the extraordinary Cougar Bay:
Cougar Bay and its surrounding shoreline are dear to many people living here. Situated one mile from Coeur d’Alene, Cougar Bay is the last undeveloped shallow bay at Lake Coeur d’Alene’s northern end. It contains rich wildlife habitats in its water, wetland, and uplands. Realizing Cougar Bay is a threatened and irreplaceable natural resource, many local people have worked hard to preserve it from development and other disruptive intrusions.
As a result, Cougar Bay’s shoreline is mostly preserved in its natural state, but forces are pushing to open up the bay to more intensive uses. Here is how that preservation came about.
In 1992 a developer proposed building a subdivision along Cougar Bay’s northern shore. Huge opposition to it arose, leading to the formation of the Friends of Cougar Bay. During that summer, the Friends attended hearings and gathered more than 3,000 signatures calling on the county commissioners to turn down this proposal and work to preserve Cougar Bay as a wildlife sanctuary. Under extreme pressure, the developer eventually sold his shoreline strip to The Nature Conservancy which then sold it to the Bureau of Land Management. That land, which you as United States citizens own, is where people hunt each fall and launch their canoes and kayaks into Cougar Bay.
After the developer sold the his northern strip of land, he purchased a farm on Cougar Bay’s western hillside. He proposed building an intensive 92-house subdivision on it. A new opposition group, the Rural Kootenai Organization (RKO) formed and challenged his project. For nine years, RKO contested the applicant’s plan before the county commissioners, state agencies, and the courts. In 2001 the developer, RKO, and the county negotiated an agreement to create a 35-acre conservation easement protecting land next to Cougar Bay in exchange for building a 77-house subdivision. The Inland Northwest Land Trust now oversees that conservation easement.
In 2003, the Bureau of Land Management purchased a quarter section of land lying below and to the south of Cougar Bay from John Pointner. Driving along US 95 from Coeur d’Alene and looking south across the bay, you will see a wide, wooded, undeveloped hillside. This is land you permanently own through BLM’s purchase.
If you flew over Cougar Bay from downtown Coeur d’Alene, you would see how all these acquisitions now preserve Cougar Bay’s shoreline. The northern shore is protected by the 1300 foot long strip purchased by the Bureau of Land Management in the early 1990s. To the west, the conservation easement monitored by the Inland Northwest Land Trust protects Cougar Bay’s upland habitat. Further west and south of US 95, The Nature Consevancy’s acreage preserves Cougar Bay’s rich wetland and hillside. South of Cougar Bay, the Bureau of Land Management owns nearly the entire shoreline and hillside. Eventually this, in combination with The Nature Conservancy land next to it, will hold public hiking trails and other low-impact facilities.
All of this has been accomplished by many people and organizations during the past eighteen years. They had and have a vision for Cougar Bay’s future, much as people did who worked to preserve Tubbs Hill as a local natural resource. Simply put their vision is that Cougar Bay will be a place where people will have easy access to nature and nature is left largely undisturbed. Completing this vision will enrich this community and connect young people to the natural world.
Lately, though, new threats to achieving this vision have surfaced. One threat involves removing log storage pilings and booms from the mouth of Cougar Bay. Currently, they deter high-speed boats and personal watercrafts from entering Cougar Bay. Another proposed intrusion is to install moored overnight docking facilities at the bay’s entrance. A third proposal that occasionally emerges is to dredge the bay, removing its plants and deepening it. Finally, proposals to haul and store docks and other equipment in Cougar Bay have been made and heard by the Idaho Department of Lands. This agency regulates lakebeds and issues surface water leases.
If adopted, these proposals would permanently degrade Cougar Bay, this community’s most precious resource. Cougar Bay should not be sacrificed so a few people can zip across the bay or store docks and other floating structures on its water. Many people have worked diligently and hard to preserve Cougar Bay’s wetlands and hillsides so this community has natural sanctuary available for low-impact uses, wildlife, and its children.
It is now time for the general public to give a lasting gift to this and future generations by insisting that Cougar Bay’s publicly owned surface water is used in ways that are compatible with the natural values already preserved on its surrounding shores. At the beginning of the campaign to preserve Cougar Bay, a friend of mine told me that preserving it would later be seen as an act of genius. This is true more than ever, and you as citizens of this place have your part to play in completing this magnificent effort.