BOISE – A final management plan is in place for one of three new central Idaho wilderness areas.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service on Thursday signed the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness Plan.
The plan covers 183 square miles and is described by federal officials as a middle-ground plan when it comes to restrictions on human visitors and activities.
“We believe we have a product that meets the intent of the Wilderness Act and legislation, while providing considerations to the well-being of individuals who use the area for their livelihoods,” Chuck Mark, Salmon-Challis National Forest Supervisor, said in a statement.
The Idaho Conservation League said it’s concerned the plan doesn’t do enough to prevent pack goats from passing diseases to bighorn sheep. Another concern, the group said, is allowing too many people into sensitive high alpine and riparian areas.
“We’re reviewing the wilderness plan as a whole and considering our next steps,” said the group’s central Idaho director, Dani Mazzotta.
The Forest Service and BLM have slightly different processes for approving the plan. The BLM process allows a 30-day appeal process. The Forest Service’s decision is final and a challenge would require a federal lawsuit.
About 149 square miles of the wilderness is managed by the Forest Service, and about 34 square miles by the BLM.
The plan limits groups to 12 people, and the number of pack animals and saddle stock to 20 per group.
The proposed plan suggested recommending North American Packgoat Association guidelines, which includes precautions for preventing goats from passing diseases to Bighorn sheep.
Mazzotta said that made the goat guidelines voluntary, but that was changed in the final plan to make them mandatory. She said the group wanted goats banned from areas of the wilderness with bighorn habitat and where radio collar information indicates bighorns have visited.
President Barack Obama signed the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act in August 2015 after Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho got ranchers, recreationists and environmental groups to back the plan.
Simpson had been working on wilderness designation for 15 years, but some groups upset with the delay pushed Obama to designate a much larger area a national monument. That possibility is widely believed to have led to the wilderness bill passing despite opposition, particularly in rural Custer County where some of the wilderness area is located.
The legislation approving the wilderness areas allows continued livestock grazing where it existed before the wilderness designation.
The other two wilderness areas created are the 138-square-mile Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness and the 142-square-mile Cecil D. Andrus White Clouds Wilderness.
Those two wilderness areas fall mostly within the Forest Service’s Sawtooth National Forest and Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
Officials said those two wilderness areas will be managed under a single plan developed by the Sawtooth National Forest with help from the BLM. That final plan hasn’t been released, but a proposed plan has been available for comment.
“We’re definitely supportive of the Cecil D. Andrus White Clouds and Hemingway-Boulders plan as currently proposed,” Mazzotta said.