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BLM halts trail assessment in Owyhee County amid public concerns

Owyhee Canyonlands
Shari Hart
BLM Idaho
A geologic formation in the Owyhee Canyonlands

The Bureau of Land Management is canceling an assessment of trails in Owyhee County.

The agency received more than 2,500 public comments since February about the Grand View Travel Management Plan Environmental Assessment, and, on Friday, announced the need to “reassess information and validate route inventory.”

Grand View covers 251,000 BLM-managed acres with a high density of trails that are experiencing a surge in recreational activity.

This travel management plan is the last of five for different segments of public lands in Owyhee County, mandated by a 2009 federal law aimed at balancing public access and natural resource protection.

For the 1,365 documented trails in the Grand View segment, the BLM proposed four alternative plans this spring, varying in mileage open to off-highway vehicles or all motorized vehicles, or closed to the public.

Sandra Mitchell, the executive director of the Idaho Recreation Council, said the data and maps the BLM presented on the trail network were not accurate. The council represents activities ranging from ATV riding and snowmobiling to equestrian and backcountry aviation.

Heather Appelhof, a public affairs specialist for the BLM’s Boise District Office, said part of the challenge is the sheer number of roads and trails in this area. That’s made it difficult for the agency and user groups to reach a common understanding of route names and locations.

The agency is now restarting the process to develop new alternatives and plans to work more closely with affected communities to validate routes on the ground.

Mitchell applauded the BLM’s decision to halt the current process.

“We were delighted that they have paused – that they listened to the users of the land and are willing to now sit down with us and identify trails and areas that should be open and areas that could well be closed,” Mitchell said. “But we need to do that as a team.”

One of the BLM’s proposed alternatives involved closing 65% of documented trails in the area. Mitchell’s group wants to see as many open to motorized use as possible.

“It’s a high-use area and use has increased,” she said. “So, we need more trails, not less.”

But she said it’s important they’re in the right place and well-managed.

John Robison, the public lands and wildlife director for the Idaho Conservation League said the recreation surge in the Owyhee Canyonlands has coincided with an increase in illegal, user-created trails, which have been degrading the landscape. He hopes the agency will address this issue.

“This is an important opportunity for the BLM to recognize all that’s out there,” he said, “so they can prioritize restoring the landscape for wildlife and the people who enjoy the wildlife.”

Grand View is habitat for increasingly rare wildlife species, such as bighorn sheep, greater sage grouse and golden eagles.

ICL is also advocating for an increase in trails designated as solely “non-motorized” – open to mountain bikers, equestrians and hikers, Robison said. The BLM had considered a maximum of six miles of trails exclusively for those uses.

As the agency restarts the planning process, Robison encouraged the public to stay on designated trails and adhere to “Leave No Trace” principles.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter

 @racheld_cohenCopyright 2024 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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