Editor’s note: This blog was contributed to by both Avery Shawler, a researcher working out of ICL’s Central Idaho office, and Jonathan Oppenheimer.
Driving across Idaho’s Highway 84, as it parallels the Snake River in southern Idaho, I am always curious what secrets the mountain ranges conceal. The Sublette, Jim Sage, Cotterell, Albion, Deep Creek and Portneuf Ranges aren’t common destinations for Idahoans or visitors. They aren’t designated wilderness, but you can certainly find "wildness" there. It’s something that’s easy to take for granted living in Idaho, but if any of these ranges were closer to larger urban areas, you’d likely be seeing them featured in magazines touting their beauty, unique geology and their history.
That’s one of the reasons that the Idaho Conservation League is working to inventory some of these areas and to ensure that we consider their unique and wild character as we work together with the BLM and other stakeholders to plan for their future.
Recently, ICL staff and partners met with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in southern Idaho for a field tour of some of these areas. According to BLM policy, plans need to account for these areas and provide guidance for how they will be managed in the future. ICL has a program in place to inventory these potential Lands with Wilderness Characteristics (LWC) units in the area.
On this outing, we camped at City of Rocks National Preserve, established by Congress in 1988. It’s a unique place with granite formations that are unlike anything else in Idaho. Shoshone and Bannock tribes hunted buffalo in this area for centuries, and emigrants traveling on the California Trail passed through here, leaving wagon ruts in the earth and signing some of the rock with axle grease (begging the question, when does graffiti become historic? We can leave that for a future blog post…)
City of Rocks is a renowned destination for rock climbers, but nonclimbers can also enjoy scrambling around the many accessible rock formations. Savoring dinner atop one of the rocks on a warm evening, we watched the moonrise as common nighthawks and bats foraged all around us.
The next morning we met up with BLM Burley Field Office staff at the Tracy General Store in "downtown" Almo. It claims to be Idaho’s oldest continually operating mercantile in Idaho, first opening its doors in 1984. We visited areas in both the Jim Sage Mountains and Cotterell Mountains. We discussed appropriate boundaries, how areas were classified and some of the unique characteristics of these areas. It was a great learning opportunity for both ICL and the BLM to understand how to best evaluate these unique areas and to consider how to protect some of the wildness that remains.
Field tours are important for developing relationships and understanding how others see the land. Working together to find ways to protect some of Idaho’s unique landscapes and finding common ground is the Idaho way. We are proud to partner with our public land managers and look forward to working together to develop lasting solutions that work for Idaho’s people and our shared resources.