Posts tagged: BLM
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Some of the nation's top public lands officials and rangeland scientists have gathered in Boise to try to figure out what can be done to avoid an Endangered Species Act listing of sage grouse. The three-day Sage Grouse and Rangeland Wildfire in the Great Basin Conference opened Wednesday with remarks from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe and U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze. Mike Connor, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, also attended the opening. Early remarks focused on finding collaboration among federal, state and private entities as massive wildfires and invasive species threaten a fragmented sage grouse habitat. The conference is playing out as the Fish and Wildlife Service faces a deadline next year on whether the chicken-sized bird needs federal protection.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management once again violated federal laws when it issued grazing permits instead of analyzing how grazing could harm sage grouse in four allotments in south-central Idaho. In a ruling released Monday, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill found that the BLM failed to consider stopping grazing in any of the proposed management plans in the agency's Burley Field Office. The decision is round two of a lawsuit led by conservation group Western Watersheds Project that is challenging nearly 600 BLM grazing allotments spread across southern Idaho. Winmill agreed that the BLM is allowed to automatically renew grazing permits without conducting lengthy environmental reviews. However, it must still comply with federal laws requiring the agency to study rangeland degradation.
Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador introducing legislation today to transfer 31 acres of U.S. Bureau of Land Management land in Idaho County to the county for a gun range – a move the BLM supports. Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik said the county has been pushing for the range for at least six years, since before he took office. “I think it’s a good thing for the county,” he said. “I don’t always see eye-to-eye with the BLM on a lot of issues, but when we do see eye-to-eye, I’m going to try to work together with them and work things out. They want to help us.”
A Nampa man has been sentenced to nine months in prison for stealing rocks from BLM land, and not just any rocks. Brian Kirkpatrick, 46, pleaded guilty to stealing more than 9,800 pounds of sandstone from federal BLM property to sell commercially for use in landscaping projects. He had a similar federal offense in 2009, and is currently in state prison on related state charges. “Protecting Idaho’s public lands is a priority for my office,” said U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson. “Public lands are just that: They are there for the public to enjoy. This prosecution hopefully sends a strong message that my office will prosecute those who illegally exploit public lands for their own gain.” Kirkpatrick's conviction is for theft of government property.
The only place in the world where the rare Packard’s milkvetch plant is found is in a 10-square-mile area in Payette County in the Big Willow area, the BLM says, so it’s proposing new off-road travel restrictions in the area to protect the plant. The restrictions will include three designations: Areas open for motorized travel both on- and off-trail; areas closed to all motor vehicle use; and areas where motorized vehicles are limited to designated trails.
A 127-acre area would be designated as open, to allow “hill-climbing” and other off-roading. A 5,620-acre area would be closed; and 1,620 areas would be limited; the restrictions are scheduled to start in the fall.
“This decision is necessary because the habitat for Packard’s milkvetch is at risk from damage by motorized vehicle traffic,” said Terry Humphrey, field manager for the BLM Four Rivers Field Office. “These travel designations would allow motorized vehicle use to continue on designated trails and provide for hill climbing opportunities in certain areas, while insuring the protection of the plant and its habitat for further damage.
The Packard’s milkvetch is currently listed as a candidate species for protection from extinction under the Endangered Species Act; click below for the BLM’s full announcement. The agency developed the designations after two years of study, public meetings and outreach to area recreationists.
By the way, after I posted the AP story a few posts down about the BLM’s decision to close off climbing access at the popular Castle Rocks in eastern Idaho, a reader asked for a link to where people could offer public comments. That turned out to be a good question, and opened up kind of a can of worms. I couldn’t find anything on the BLM’s website, so I contacted them. It turns out they’re not in a public comment period on the Castle Rocks climbing access issue, they’re in a 30-day “protest period.” That means the decision’s already been made, but they won’t carry it out until after they review and consider any protests filed during that period, which started April 17 and runs for 30 days.
However, and this is a big however, the only people who can protest during this protest period are those who submitted public comments during the public comment period, which ran from August to December of 2011. Mike Courtney, Burley field manager for the BLM, said anyone who participated in that public comment period got a green card by certified mail instructing them of their opportunity to protest the decision. The date in their card is the date on which their 30-day clock starts ticking. Plus, the only protests that can be raised are issues that were submitted for consideration in the planning process that ended in December of 2011.
The public is clearly concerned about this issue, and also equally confused about the process. “We’re getting hundreds of emails,” Courtney said. “We’ll go through ‘em.” But according to the formal process the BLM must follow, those emails can’t be considered. “Using this process, they’re not going to get weighed in the decision,” he said. Many of those sending the emails, however, commented in the earlier process, he said, and are eligible to participate in the protest period.
Here's how to find out about the protest process: Go to this link, and then click on “Castle Rocks Proposed Decision Record and FONSI.” (FONSI, it turns out, has nothing to do with Henry Winkler, and instead is a federal-ese acronym that stands for “Finding Of No Significant Impact.”) That will take you to a 12-page PDF document; the instructions for filing protests are on Page 6. Courtney said, “You’ve got to read that document. It’s very specific.” For example, protests may not be filed by email; only by hard copy, and they go to D.C.
Courtney said, “People who have not been engaged but want to engage now should work through the Access Fund.” That’s a non-profit rock climbing advocacy group based in Boulder, Colo., that’s been engaged throughout the project; see its website here. Policy analyst R.D. Pascoe is the contact person there on this issue. “I submitted the protest today,” he told Eye on Boise. The group's “Action Center” page on the issue can be seen here.
Pascoe said, “We’ve worked closely with the state park and the BLM and the Forest Service since 2003 at least to try to work out a climbing management plan.” That plan was adopted to govern climbing at the Castle Rocks State Park portion of the area in 2003, he said, and “it has been used successfully there this whole time.” Pascoe said if the protests aren’t successful, his group will consider a lawsuit.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has ordered Skinny Dipper Hot Springs in Boise County closed to all recreational use from sunset to sunrise, allowing only daytime use of the hot springs along the Banks-Lowman Highway along with the parking lot and access trail. “The closure will help provide for public safety,” the agency said in a news release. “Since 2004, there have been several fatalities, assaults and numerous injuries associated with night-time use of the area.”