After nearly a decade of planning, public meetings, and public comment opportunities, on August 18, 2023, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a Record of Decision for the Four Rivers Field Office Resource Management Plan (RMP).  The updated RMP will inform and guide resource management, such as wildlife habitat, livestock grazing, fire, recreation, and mineral development for the next 20-plus years.

As a result of your speaking up for the lands you love, the BLM brought substantial protections back into the RMP, and increased important  protections over the past two years of final negotiations and discussions.

The agency’s original draft had stripped protections from the Boise Front, the Bennett Hills, and several other designated special conservation areas.  The Idaho Conservation League and other conservation organizations engaged members and supporters to provide comments and recommendations to the BLM, resulting in 11,000+ responses!  This overwhelming reaction helped shape the conversation, bringing protections back into the plan.

The Bennett Hills

This area, located east of Mountain Home, will be managed as a 120,800 acre Backcountry Conservation Area (BCA).  The new BCA designation, currently found only in Idaho and Montana, is designed to provide a high quality primitive backcountry experience while allowing continued access on existing roads..  The BCA will ensure public access while providing critical habitat for upland birds, redband trout and big game, such as mule deer and elk that migrate from the Smoky Mountains and the Sawtooths to find reliable winter forage.

Further, the Bennett Hills BCA will be withdrawn from mineral and oil/gas leasing and other energy developments!

“Essential habitats, such as migration corridors and refuge areas used by deer, elk, pronghorn, and other wildlife within the Four Rivers management area, warrant this level of protection. Animals use these specific areas and pass knowledge of them to offspring because they satisfy vital needs that can’t be met anywhere else. ICL is thankful for the BLM’s good work in the Bennett Hills area and will continue to encourage all federal and state agencies to pay close attention to critical migration routes on other public lands in Idaho while making land management decisions, “ said ICL Wildlife Program Associate Jeff Abrams.

Mineral Leasing

After receiving numerous comments regarding the agency’s plan to continue oil/gas exploration and leasing in areas with low potential development, the BLM has pivoted to prohibit oil/gas exploration and leasing in low potential areas, while retaining the option in areas with the highest potential (primarily around Payette, Idaho).  Geothermal leasing opportunities are unaffected from the previous plan.

The Boise Front

The Boise Front will receive dual protections. First, as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), numerous rare and sensitive plants found in the foothills will be protected. Second, as a Special Recreation Management Area, recreation opportunities will be preserved in the foothills while maintaining critical winter habitat for deer and elk. Originally set at 11,254 acres and slated for removal from the ACEC list, the Boise Front will increase to 15,080 acres and continue to provide a protected backdrop to our Capital City.  

Hixon Columbian Sharp-Tailed Grouse ACEC

The Hixon Columbian Sharp-Tailed Grouse ACEC will increase from 4,170 acres to 18,660 acres, providing much needed habitat protections for this upland bird.

King Hill Creek and Box Creek Wilderness Study Areas

eliminated in the draft version, the BLM retained these two Wilderness Study Areas.

Sheep Mountain/Wildhorse River Region/Lands with Wilderness Characteristics 

Nearly 8,000 acres in the Sheep Mountain/Wildhorse River region are identified as Lands with Wilderness Characteristics (LWC), which is significant because this protection was eliminated in the draft version. ICL and Idahoans worked hard to retain our LWCs. To put this into context, similar BLM RMPs in Alaska, Colorado, Montana and Oregon, unfortunately, resulted in zero acres of LWC protection.

This good news is balanced by the loss of several ACECs and Research Natural Areas, including the reduction by half of the Long-Billed Curlew ACEC due to habitat destruction and mismanagement.

More Opportunities to Comment Coming Soon!

Once again, thank you for your commitment to Idaho and your willingness to stand up for your public lands.  Keep an eye out for opportunities to comment on travel management planning throughout the Owyhee Canyonlands over the coming months.  Together we can continue to make forward progress in protecting the special places, plants, and wildlife that we all love.