The Owyhee Canyonlands contain some of the most intact and vibrant sagebrush steppe habitat remaining in the West. However, separate proposals from the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Air Force threaten to degrade this unique landscape.
First, the BLM proposes to establish a network of fuel breaks throughout southwestern Idaho, eastern Oregon, and portions of northern Nevada.
The concept of using fuel breaks is well-intended. If strategically located in already degraded areas surrounding high quality sage-steppe habitat, fuel breaks can protect and conserve the remaining sagebrush ecosystem from wildfire. However, the current proposal would construct fuel breaks in intact habitat teeming with wildlife, further fragmenting habitat and increasing the risk of noxious weeds, fires and habitat loss.
Nearly football field-sized lengths of sagebrush along the iconic Mud Flat Road (also known as the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway) would be mowed, ground down, or sprayed with herbicide. This corridor would turn into a swath of bare soil or a monoculture of alien invasive weeds, drawing weeds and wildfire right into the heart of the Owyhees.
Fuel breaks are largely untested in the sagebrush environment and come with their own set of complications and concerns:
- Fragmentation of habitat, especially for sensitive species like the greater sage-grouse.
- Spread of invasive, noxious, and highly flammable weeds and grasses, like cheat grass.
- Increased fire risk as failure to maintain fuel breaks could lead to highly flammable conditions.
- Degradation of the beauty of the Owyhees.
ICL is also concerned that a lack of dedicated funding for the BLM will make it difficult to monitor and maintain fuel breaks. ICL is encouraging concerned Idahoans to learn more about the proposal and submit comments on the plan. Comments are due November 25, 2019.
Second, the Mountain Home Air Force Base (MHAFB) proposes to expand current low-level and supersonic training opportunities in the Owyhee Canyonlands. Twenty years ago, the Air Force came to Idahoans with a proposal that took 10 years to negotiate, culminating in the current airspace use agreement. Just 10 years later, the Air Force wants to move the goalposts and pivot away from Idahoans’ collaborative work to protect the Owyhees and its economic way of life. Check MHAFB Airspace EIS for more information.
MHAFB has long been an integral part of our community while supporting a critical base of operations and training for the Air Force. We support our military personnel and understand the need for realistic training opportunities. The proposal, though, raises grave concerns, including:
- Noise pollution in wilderness areas, marring wilderness values and tainting recreation.
- Harm to bighorn sheep and greater sage-grouse, sensitive species adversely affected by abrupt, loud, or prolonged disturbances.
- Potential harmful effects on rural communities and economies.
ICL is deeply concerned about the negative effects the Air Force proposal could have on our agricultural community, wilderness values, recreation experiences, and the plants and animals in the Owyhee canyons and desert. We all need your help defending our communities and wildlands from potentially harmful low level, supersonic flights.
Public comments to the Air Force are due Nov. 25, 2019, and can be submitted on the project website, or in writing to Mountain Home AFB Airspace EIS, c/o Leidos, 1740 East Fairview Ave., PMB 20, Meridian, ID 83642.