IDAHO FALLS – The federal government said Friday it has reached a pact with a central Idaho county, helping defuse what had been a tense standoff last spring when local officials threatened to use a front-end loader to reopen a remote mountain road closed by the Bureau of Land Management.
The Department of Justice and BLM announced Friday that Custer County agreed to refrain from unilateral actions on federal land without agreement with the federal government.
The dispute escalated in April, when one county official threatened to haul off a BLM manager in “pretty pink handcuffs” if he tried to stop locals from opening the road near the Jerry Peak Wilderness Study Area.
The agency had closed the road in 1999, to the chagrin of locals who complained they were being unfairly barred from accessing beloved recreation ground with their motorized vehicles.
Ultimately, however, a physical confrontation was avoided and the front-end loader parked when a judge ordered county officials to stand down.
“I commend the cooperation shown by Custer County and our federal land management agencies in reaching this settlement,” said Wendy J. Olson, U.S. attorney for Idaho, in a statement. “Under this settlement, the BLM and the Forest Service can continue to manage and protect our public resources in a way that benefits all Idahoans, indeed the entire country.”
Custer County in mid-April sent heavy machinery to Herd Creek Road in what was a scenario reminiscent of the “shovel-brigade” road conflict of the 1990s near Jarbidge, Nev., that became symbolic of Western residents’ animosity toward the federal government.
Officials steering the equipment went with the intention of removing boulders that had been placed there by the BLM more than a decade earlier to protect values in the Jerry Peak Wilderness Study area, where no motorized vehicles are allowed.
County officials argued they hadn’t been properly consulted before the route was shuttered.
The boulder-removal action was called off around April 16, however, after U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued a restraining order against the county to bar it from firing up the earth-moving equipment and acting on federal land without federal consent.
Friday’s pact emerged from talks that started in August, when the two sides agreed to settle their differences in the negotiating room, not with diesel-powered construction equipment in Idaho’s remote backcountry.