Jennifer Brown-Scott is proud of the draft conservation plan she hopes to unveil next month, but she knows the changes and compromises it contains wont satisfy local leaders.
I dont think theres anything I can say other than were leaving that would make them happy, said Brown-Scott, who manages Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The federal wildlife agency has no intention of relinquishing its management responsibility over Lake Lowell, the 10,000-acre reservoir that dominates the refuge, she said. And shes basically right when she says thats what Canyon County commissioners and other opponents of new regulation on the lake have in mind.
County leaders say they are OK with the federal wildlife service managing the land portions of the refuge, but not the man-made lake that has been a haven for local boaters and fishermen since it was filled more than a century ago. They worry that the upcoming Comprehensive Conservation Plan will shackle beloved pastimes and undercut the local culture and economy.
We will vigorously object to any management plan that purports to vest regulatory power over any use of the waters of Lake Lowell, Canyon County commissioners said last summer in their official response to the refuges preliminary plan.
Last weekend the commission chairman, county prosecutor and other officials marched in Parade America alongside three boats adorned with Save Lake Lowell banners.
Were not saying the water belongs to Canyon County; were just saying the water doesnt belong to the Fish and Wildlife Service of the United States, said Sam Laugheed, chief civil deputy for the Canyon County Prosecutors Office, which provides legal counsel to county commissioners.
The bottom line is that the water belongs to the irrigators.
Once the revised draft of the plan is released and reviewed, Laugheed said, the county and others will look at all options, including litigation, to prevent new regulation on the lake.
Another possible response to the draft plan might be federal legislation to try to wrest control of Lake Lowell from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Justin Harrison, manager of Idaho Water Sports and a leader of the Save Lake Lowell movement. Idahos congressional delegation has been vocal in opposing restrictions on motorized boating and other longstanding lake activities that are not wildlife-dependent.
PROTEST AND COMPROMISE
Harrison tentatively plans a protest parade and rally this summer, timed to coincide with a visit from U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, who held an event at the lake in 2010 to address concerns about the planning process, which was then in the early stages.
Any restriction in recreation on a man-made lake is unacceptable to us, Harrison said.
But he also said hes eager to see the refuges revised plan, and he noted that refuge managers have proposed changes in response to the fiery opposition sparked by the initial management proposals.
I think weve gained ground since the last comment period, he said. They did make some modifications.
Im all about conservation and helping animals survive, so Im definitely in favor of compromise. As long as I can stay in business and we can have people enjoying the lake, I think we can be fine.
Brown-Scott said all of the modifications her agency announced last fall are reflected in the revised draft of the plan, and so are various other changes regarding recreational use of the lake. One hope, she said, is to forge stronger connections between those who use the lake and the refuges conservation efforts.
I really think weve come to some good common ground in this draft plan, she said. Hopefully people will say, Hey, yeah, they really listened.
WHOSE LAKE IS IT?
Brown-Scott and the agency agree that irrigation is the primary purpose of Lake Lowell it provides water to some 225,000 acres of farmland.
But she says the agency has authority and responsibility to manage uses of that water while it is within the reservoir, providing shelter and sustenance to wildlife.
Opponents say Fish and Wildlife has no water rights to the reservoir.
The agency tried to secure water rights for the Snake River Islands that are part of the Deer Flat refuge, Laugheed said, but the Idaho Supreme Court ruled against the agency in 2001. The ruling stated that the primary purpose of the Migratory Bird Water Act would not be defeated without water rights for the refuge, he said.
The case concerned the river islands and not the refuge property that includes Lake Lowell, he said, but the language of the opinion applies to the entire refuge. Its the basis of our argument.
WHENS THE NEXT MOVE?
A year ago, managers said the revised plan would be released in spring 2012, with open houses and an ample period of time for public comment. Now Brown-Scott is hoping that they will have it in hand and start that process by June 19. But even that mark might be hard to hit.
Its out of our hands at this point, she said, noting that the revisions have cleared regional review and were submitted to national officials a couple of weeks ago. Its unclear when theyll get the go-ahead.
The prolonged process has been frustrating for all sides, with nearly a year between the close of the comment period on the preliminary alternatives and the planned unveiling of the revised plan. That gives ample time for opponents to imagine what might happen when the federal agencys intentions are revealed.
Thats really the bummer, Brown-Scott said. Its such a long planning process, especially when you have a controversial plan.
We want to get it out there. Were excited about it.
Kristin Rodine: 377-6447