Idaho has a rich outdoor legacy, and Idahoans have strong connections to abundant fish and wildlife populations. Generations of Idaho families have fished neighborhood waters and watched birds out our kitchen windows. Parents pass hunting traditions to our children, and outfitters grow local economies. Much of this legacy depends on well-managed public lands.
Idaho has more than 11.6 million acres of public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Despite their importance, these places and the resources they sustain are not always managed to conserve or restore the habitat needed for abundant fish and wildlife populations. Idaho sportsmen need to protect our outdoor opportunities by becoming involved and urging the BLM to conserve intact and undeveloped fish and wildlife habitat.
One of the reasons sportsmen experience high-quality hunting and fishing on public lands is because of habitats that provide "wildlife security," a condition in which wildlife has the space and safety necessary to thrive on the landscape. These conditions allow wildlife managers to maximize public hunting and fishing. When areas are fragmented by excessive road densities and other development, habitat security decreases. Consequently, wildlife numbers often decrease because deer and elk are displaced to less desirable habitats, resulting in lower reproductive rates, overharvest during hunting season and increased winter mortality.
Sportsmen know from their own experiences that Idaho's best public land hunting and fishing is on intact and unfragmented fish and wildlife habitat. Salmon River bull elk, southeast Idaho buck deer and Owyhee County antelope are Idaho's biggest and best because they have the right kinds of food, water and habitat - including space to roam. Many sportsmen know these best hunting and fishing areas as "backcountry."
BLM lands and habitats across the West are facing mounting development pressures. More than 40 million acres of federal public land has been leased for oil and gas development, and millions of additional acres face wind and solar energy developments. Energy development is important and necessary, but if done in the wrong way or wrong places, our fish and wildlife populations and outdoor traditions will suffer.
While Idaho's public lands aren't rich in fossil fuels, they face development pressures of a different sort, ranging from severe wildfires and noxious weed outbreaks to new transmission corridors and poorly managed off-road vehicle use.
Many BLM lands in Idaho are key winter range for deer and elk that summer on national forest lands, then migrate to lower elevations to survive the harshest months of the year. Preserving these key backcountry habitats is essential to maintaining Idaho wildlife populations and hunting opportunities.
Participating in BLM local land-use planning processes is a meaningful way for sportsmen to safeguard high-value BLM fish and wildlife habitats. Right now, the BLM is developing land-use plans in the Upper Snake area north of Idaho Falls, south of Twin Falls in the Jarbidge area and around Boise in the Four Rivers area. Plans will be developed in coming years in the Salmon and Challis areas.
Sportsmen and others who care about fish and wildlife should get involved in these plans and request that the BLM take steps to safeguard intact backcountry fish and wildlife habitat to maintain Idaho's rich wildlife heritage and protect our Western way of life. You can learn more and get involved at Idaho BLM's website, www.blm.gov/id/st/en.html.
John Caywood is a semi-retired resource professional and Idaho lifetime hunting license holder.