Visits by recreational users to land in Idaho overseen by the federal Bureau of Land Management have skyrocketed in recent years, from 1.5 million in 1985 to 7.6 million in 1995.
The trend is placing enormous new pressures on the BLM, which marks its 50th anniversary this year. The agency manages 11.6 million acres of Idaho - 22 percent of the state.
BLM holdings in North Idaho are mostly scattered forest lands.
“Managing the land has become a lot more complex because of the number of people and the number of interests that are out there,” said BLM acting Director Mike Dombeck, in Boise on Wednesday to meet with ranchers and environmentalists and to give an award to a local conservation group.
“The BLM has become the agency that is caught in the middle.”
The agency, under Dombeck’s leadership since 1994, has taken steps to balance recreational uses with traditional ranching. Most notable have been Resource Advisory Councils - special committees of ranchers, environmentalists and others that advise the BLM on rangeland health. There are 24 such councils across the West, including three in Idaho.
The agency was created in 1946 to manage federal lands once considered virtually useless.
Now, as the West fills with city dwellers, BLM land has become a key resource that pulls in tourist dollars.
Recreation on land managed by the Department of the Interior, which includes the BLM, the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, generated $12 billion nationwide in 1994, according to the BLM.
Meanwhile, ranching and farming have decreased in relative importance. In 1993, agriculture represented 7 percent of the state’s economy, down from 12 percent in 1969.
“The land that nobody wanted has become pretty valuable,” Dombeck said.
Dombeck said improving the health of the BLM’s rangeland and offering better service to ranchers and recreationists have become the agency’s top priorities.