Idaho Land Use Update Hot
Sage Grouse Update
What you need to know:
For those needing a reminder, the BLM and USFS are in the process of conducting a giant multiple plan amendment adding greater sage-grouse conservation measures to land use plans in 10 Western states. The plan amendments will affect everything from travel management to energy production to livestock grazing. The effort is a result of an April 2010 determination by the United State Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that the greater sage grouse warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The USFS and BLM say they expect to have a Draft Environmental Impact Statement by spring of 2013. The agencies are likely to attempt to include some kind of restriction on OHV use, even though studies show OHV use isn't a major factor for the success of the Grouse. When the draft plan amendment(s) comes out, BRC will need our members and supporters to comment en masse.
For those of you who like to dive into the details, the agencies have released a summary of the comments received in this year's Scoping process: Summary Report | Appendix A | Appendix B | Appendix C, Part 1 | Appendix C, Part 2
States also release draft plans for Sage Grouse conservation
Idaho and other states aren't letting the federal agencies go it alone on the Grouse. Idaho released a draft of their sage grouse conservation plan and it looks very good, at least compared to the federal agencies' approach. Idaho seeks to address the current threats to the bird and prioritizes efforts on those issues. Idaho Sage Grouse Final Recommendations
We'll see how the plan proposals of the state compare to the federal agencies next year when the federal land managers release their draft plan amendments. Until then, as we so often say... stay tuned!
Range Magazine does it again
Noreen Walsh, Quinton Barr and Carolyn Dufurrena wrote a must read article on the Sage Grouse. Do not miss this: TOOTH & CLAW - The sage grouse count
Lots of news on the litigation front...
Idaho State Snowmobile Association and BRC challenges "de-facto wilderness" management
BRC and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association (ISSA) filed a lawsuit challenging the Clearwater National Forest's decision to manage areas recommended for possible Wilderness designation as if the lands were actually designated by Congress.
Sandra Mitchell, Public Lands Director of the Idaho State Snowmobile Association, said it best:
"Only Congress can designate Wilderness. For many years we have heard rumors the Northern Region was going to start illegally limiting their management options in potential Wilderness areas, effectively creating a new system of administratively designated Wilderness. In the Clearwater Travel Plan they have followed through on that vision. We cannot stand idly by and watch them change the long-established system for managing these treasured lands."
The suit particularly focuses on management of the "Great Burn" area near the Idaho-Montana border. This area has been a popular snowmobiling destination for decades, and, prior to issuance of the Travel Plan, also received occasional motorcycle and mountain bike use.
The case is entitled Idaho State Snowmobile Association v. U.S. Forest Service, Case No. 3:12-cv-00447-MHW. A copy of the recreation groups' complaint may be viewed HERE. You can learn more about the case and support ISSA and BRC's efforts HERE.
Update on Sawtooth and Salmon Challis NF lawsuits.
I think it is kind of ironic that at one time Idaho's environmental groups were considered "moderate," at least compared to their counterparts in other states.
If that was accurate, any semblance of "moderate" was thrown out the window with the response to the Travel Planning on the Sawtooth and Salmon Challis National Forests. Closing hundreds of miles of popular roads and trails wasn't enough for Idaho's greenies, so they marched in to federal court demanding even more. (Read more about the Sawtooth lawsuit here.)
Both the Salmon Challis and Sawtooth are in the process of modifying their travel plan as a result of these lawsuits. We don't have anything to report at this time, but at some point Idaho's OHV community will need to weigh in. So... as we so often say, stay tuned!
Winter recreation under attack as well...
Anti-snowmobile interests led by the Winter Wildlands Alliance (WWA) have launched a significant challenge to snowmobile access on Forest Service lands. WWA filed a lawsuit in late November 2011 that primarily targets the "snowmobile exemption" in the Forest Service 2005 Travel Management Rule.
Snowmobile advocates moved quickly to defend snowmobile use. BRC, Idaho State Snowmobile Association and the American Council of Snowmobile Associations all intervened in the case.
A WWA victory could have Forest-system wide implications for snowmobiling. The wave of planning potentially necessitated by that outcome could affect wheeled vehicles and other Forest system visitors. The recreation community (and hopefully the agency) must take this case seriously.
Briefing has been completed in this matter, and oral argument on the merits is set for November 14, 2012 in U.S. District Court in Boise.
Update on BLM planning:
Pocatello Field Office
Curlew/Deep Creeks Travel Management Plan
• Preliminary stages of Travel Management Plan - anticipates a proposed decision will be
available early in 2013.
• Final decision expected to be released the summer of 2013
Owyhee Field Office
Owyhee County Public Lands Travel Management Plan
• Developing a Travel Management Plan (TMP) for motorized routes on non-Wilderness public lands in
Owyhee County, west of the Bruneau River, as required in Omnibus Public Land Management Act
(OPLMA) of 2009
• Proposed Action is projected to be out to the public in 2013
Jarbidge Field Office
Jarbidge Resource Management Plan Revision
• BLM is hoping to have a Final Plan and EIS out by Spring 2013
Four Rivers Field Office
Four Rivers Resource Management Plan
• Expects to release Draft RMP and EIS by August 2013
Big Willow OHV Area
• Big Willow EA and final decision expected to be done before February 2013
Upper Snake Field Office
Upper Snake Resource Management Plan
• Expects to release Draft RMP and EIS by spring or early summer 2013
Shoshone Field Office
North Hwy 20 Travel Management Plan
• Analysis of the proposal is ongoing, and will be documented in an Environmental Assessment (EA)
with an estimated completion date of 12/31/2012
Salmon Field Office
Salmon Travel Management Plan (South Half)
• Expect to release the EA by January 2013
Ah... the smell of smoke in the fall...
With the fire season almost over, I thought I'd chime in with a few thoughts about the management, or mis-management, of Idaho's National Forests.
Wildfire and insect outbreak has devastated millions of acres of National Forests across the nation and it has resulted in a long overdue review of USFS stewardship of our nation's forestlands. (Read more Congressional Spotlight on USFS stewardship)
The reality is that environmental laws and agency regulations have become one-way gates that largely constrain active management of the Forests and provide fodder for preservationist agendas, which seem to be designed to stop any active management, simply through embroiling the agency in a war of procedural attrition. The results of this are in, our National Forests are in crisis, and Congress must now step in.
Idaho's U.S. Representative Raúl Labrador steps up with a possible solution
Idaho Congressman Raúl Labrador has introduced a bill (HR 6009) that would establish pilot programs to test state management of federal lands. Governor Otter expressed support for this concept, noting the threat of catastrophic wildfire has become a real possibility.
The effort to exert more state and local control over national forests is bi-partisan and not limited to just Idaho. Here are just a few of the efforts:
H.R. 6009: Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act of 2012, Sponsor: Rep. Raúl Labrador
H.R. 846: Idaho Land Sovereignty Act, Sponsor: Rep. Raúl Labrador
Meanwhile, collaborative working groups provide temporary solutions
We all know that opposition to active management of timberlands by the environmental groups is a big part of the problem. But in Idaho, and a few other areas, the greenies seem to have recognized that our National Forests are in bad shape and something needs to be done.
Here in Idaho, the Wilderness Society, through several collaborative groups, have been willing not only to agree on some fairly major timber projects (yes... commercial timber GASP!), but also to support them through the appeals process.
The Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership connects, informs and supports these collaborative groups working to restore the resilience of Idaho forests. The Partnership is a coalition of six 501(3)(c) organizations; SAF Snake River Chapter serves as fiscal agent. They have a list of the collaborative groups currently underway here in Idaho.
It is time for Congress to act
We generally support these collaborative efforts, and we give the environmental groups credit for supporting logging projects that contribute to forest health. However, these efforts cannot address the critical need for management across the U.S. Forest Service.
The public can no longer wait. Mis-managed National Forests pose a serious risk to human life and the infrastructure our rural communities rely on. Mis-managed forests now threaten essential water supplies and estimated 550 miles of transmission and distribution power lines. Beetle-killed trees now threaten thousands of miles of roads, trails and developed recreation sites.
BRC applauds Idaho Rep. Labrador, Colorado Rep. Tipton and Senator Wyden for at least proposing solutions to the problem. As another fire season approaches, let's hope Congress takes action soon.
The BlueRibbon Coalition is a national recreation group that champions responsible recreation, and encourages individual environmental stewardship. With members in all 50 states, BRC is focused on building enthusiast involvement with organizational efforts through membership, outreach, education, and collaboration among recreationists. The Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) season is here. Federal employees, please mark BlueRibbon Coalition and Check #11402 on your CFC pledge form to support our efforts to protect your access. Join us at 1-800-258-3742 or http://www.sharetrails.org