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Heads up Open Space and wildlife lovers! BLM’s Four Rivers Field Office has released a Draft EIS for a new Resource Management Plan. The proposed Plan, issued under Idaho Director John Ruhs, will dictate management of 800,000 acres of public lands across southern Idaho for the next 20 years. It covers BLM lands north of the Snake River from King Hill to the Oregon border, and north to McCall. Unfortunately, BLM is proposing to strip long-standing protections for the Boise Front and other crucial wildlife and rare plant habitats across the region.

These protections have been in place since the Cascade RMP (the existing plan) was adopted in 1988. This designated Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs). BLM is required to manage ACECs to protect their biological or other special and unique values from irreparable environmental harm, taking special care and precaution with activities in them. The Boise Front ACEC was designated to protect crucial big game winter ranges, extremely erodible soils, fragile watersheds, rare plants, and public recreational uses.

In 2019, habitat for wildlife and rare plants across the Boise Front is in need of much greater protection, not less. Mule deer migrate across mountain ranges – some from as far away as the Sawtooths – to winter here. Wildfires have burned crucial sagebrush/bitterbrush winter range and songbird nesting habitats across the region. Post-fire shrub recovery has often been poor. Huge areas need effective native shrub restoration. Rare plant and sensitive species habitats are being choked by aggressive flammable weeds like cheatgrass that thrive in disturbed areas under ever-hotter temperatures. Climate stress makes native plant communities less resilient, and unable to recover from livestock grazing impacts, trail proliferation, and other disturbance.

Severely erodible Foothills soil types are unstable and vulnerable to catastrophic erosion and flood events – as shown by past flooding of Cottonwood Creek and other watersheds. Scientists believe this can happen again. More extreme and erratic weather events are predicted as climate change stresses bear down.

Removal of protections for the Boise Front facilitates developers steamrolling rights-of-way for housing development on interspersed Foothills private lands, and for energy development, mineral exploitation, communications towers, increased livestock grazing pressure, and much else under the BLM’s proposal.

BLM’s Plan is a repudiation of massive citizen efforts to protect the Foothills, Boise City’s passage of Open Space levies, and ever-growing public realization of the importance of untrammeled public lands all across our urbanizing region.

Gutting ACEC protection is just one part of the environmental assault contained in the confusing and often deceptively worded BLM document. Despite serious air pollution plaguing the Treasure Valley (and explosive growth adding to the problem), BLM proposes to allocate nearly the entire region for Oil and Gas development. Existing development near Payette has generated widespread controversy and legal challenges. The developer has already violated Idaho’s weak state regulations. Not only does Oil and Gas feed the global climate crisis, it consumes large amounts of water, and pollutes ground and surface water sources.

The proposal is a frontier mentality document woefully out of step with public needs and desires, and the realities of a global climate and biodiversity crisis. It maximizes for-profit land exploitation by energy, mineral and livestock interests at the expense of all other values of the public lands.

It’s time for the public and local officials to stand up in opposition to BLM’s destructive proposal in the EIS’s Alternative D.

Katie Fite is the public lands director for WildLands Defense.

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