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More than 120,000 acres set aside in Idaho as conservation area

The new Bennett Hills Backcountry Conservation Area is seen in the southwest corner of this recent BLM map
The new Bennett Hills Backcountry Conservation Area is seen in the southwest corner of this recent BLM map.

Backcountry Conservation Areas are a relatively new creation of the Bureau of Land Management, and a large new area was just established in our region.

The Bennett Hills conservation area covers more than 120,000 acres of rolling grasslands in southwest Idaho, just outside Mountain Home. It’s home to upland game bird species and serves as winter habitat for elk and mule deer.

“If anybody goes up there in the winter, you can see herds of mule deer, hundreds and hundreds of them,” said Executive Director Brian Brooks of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, which pushed for the designation. “It's pretty spectacular.”

Bennett Hills is just the third – yet largest – area established since the BLM opened the doorto their creation in 2017, Brooks said. It’s also Idaho’s first BCA.

These areas are intended to “support wildlife-dependent recreation and hunting activities” – without banning uses like mining, according to the recently renewed BLM resource management plan for a large swath of Idaho.

But while other uses are typically allowed, Brooks noted that developers trying to set up a mine or wind farm could face an “uphill battle.”

“They would be met not only with the sort of policy opposition because of the establishment of the [Backcountry Conservation Area], they're going to be met with opposition from the folks like my organization, my constituents, hunters and anglers to protect this area as well,” he said. “It would be a very significant battle that they may not be willing to take on.”

These conservation areas recognize that “the highest value and use of this landscape is the habitat and the wildlife and the recreation and economy derived from those things,” Brooks said. “So it's sort of unique.”

His coalition of conservation groups encouraged hundreds to submit comments supporting Bennett Hill’s creation. He says westerners could do the same when other management plans come up for renewal.

“With the results of this resource management plan really reflecting the voices of the folks who took part, I think it sends a message that it's really important to continue to voice your concern,” he said. “These are public lands and public agencies will respond to the public.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

As Boise State Public Radio's Mountain West News Bureau reporter, I try to leverage my past experience as a wildland firefighter to provide listeners with informed coverage of a number of key issues in wildland fire. I’m especially interested in efforts to improve the famously challenging and dangerous working conditions on the fireline.

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