Idahoans treasure the Boise Foothills and surrounding public lands. This spring, while many of us biked, ran or hiked among arrowleaf balsamroot and other wildflowers in the foothills, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) for its Four Rivers Field Office. 

This BLM Field Office oversees more than 780,000 acres of public lands, including large portions of the Boise Foothills, much of the Snake River Plain, and open space from Glenns Ferry in the south up beyond Council to the north.

The draft RMP directs how this entire area will be managed for the next 20 to 30 years. Once BLM approves the draft, it will impact recreation and habitat protections for fish and wildlife among other public land uses, including oil and gas drilling. Unfortunately, the draft removes conservation protection for nearly 20,000 acres and fails to provide habitat protection for areas recommended by sportsmen and conservationists. 

Instead of protecting our public lands, BLM’s draft emphasizes mineral leasing, including oil and gas exploration and extraction. This comes despite the agency’s own finding of the low potential for oil and gas development throughout much of the district. The Bennett Hills area is the only region protected from potential oil and gas leasing in the draft plan. Can you imagine companies potentially exploring for oil and gas in the Boise Foothills? 

While the potential for development may be low, the Idaho Conservation League is concerned that removing protections for open space will make it more difficult to prevent habitat and public lands degradation from other sources — such as noxious weeds, overuse or wildfires.

Two areas of specific concern include the Boise Front and the Bennett Hills, located east of Mountain Home. Elk and mule deer, many which migrate from the Smoky Mountains, rely on these locations as critical winter rangelands. 

The BLM also proposes to remove protections for several sensitive, native plants relying instead on interagency agreements. Out of 7,940 acres of “Lands with Wilderness Characteristics” the BLM has identified, none are proposed for interim protections. Many Idahoans and visitors hunt, fish, hike, camp and explore in these areas.

Idaho citizens and wildlife may end up the biggest losers as a result of this draft, but there is still time to add conservation back into the mix. You can help shape the trajectory of our public lands by submitting comments on the Four Rivers draft RMP by September 23, 2019