The Bureau of Land Management recently held a comment period for the potential acquisition of a 275-acre ranch in the Treasure Valley. The ranch was offered for sale to the BLM by the Alta Harris Family Foundation, and the BLM proposes to use Land and Water Conservation Funds to make the purchase. Idaho BHA submitted a comment letter to the BLM to indicate our strong support for this acquisition.
The ranch is immediately adjacent to existing BLM and Idaho State land, the latter portion of which is part of the Boise River WMA managed by Idaho Fish and Game. This area is critical winter range for elk and mule deer, and both species can be seen feeding through the foothills once the snow settles into the higher mountains. This acquisition will help to conserve the continuity of the landscape for the benefit of wildlife in the face of continual pressure from residential development and is an excellent example of how LWCF funding can be used to further conservation goals.
Working to conserve winter range is a priority for the chapter, and wildlife will travel substantial distances to reach suitable habitat in the colder months. As stated in our comment letter, spatial data collected by IDFG shows that mule deer from the Boise River herd migrate 45 miles on average to winter range in the Boise Foothills. Some deer travel nearly 100 miles. Treks this lengthy highlight both the value and the scarcity of suitable range, and long-term conservation of these landscapes is key to maintaining healthy populations.
In addition to our support for the acquisition, Idaho BHA’s letter indicated a preference for a focus on habitat conservation over increased recreational infrastructure once the ranch is under the ownership of the BLM. The property is nearby to the enormously popular Table Rock trail system, and undeveloped recreation combined with an emphasis on habitat would serve wildlife well during their fragile winter state.
Idaho's comment letter below:
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) is the voice for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife. We seek to ensure North America’s outdoor heritage of hunting and fishing in a natural setting through education and work on behalf of fish, wildlife and wild places. With chapters in 48 states, Washington D.C., two Canadian provinces and one Canadian territory, as well as nearly 2,000 dues paying members in Idaho, BHA attracts sportsmen and women, as well as other public land users, from across the continent.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Harris Ranch LWCF Acquisition Proposal (IDI-03934). We strongly support the acquisition of this 275 acre property utilizing Land and Water Conservation Funds (LWCF). The rapid growth rate of the Treasure Valley continues to expand residential development into critical big game winter range in the Boise Foothills. Other incremental impacts associated with this growth including fire, invasive species, increased recreational uses and wildlife- vehicle collisions are contributing to a long-term decline in mule deer populations. According to spatial data collected by the Idaho department of Fish and Game (IDFG), the Boise River mule deer herd migrates an average of 45 miles to their winter range in the Boise Foothills, with some deer traveling almost 100 miles.
Secretarial order 3362 directs the BLM to work with state agencies to enhance and improve the quality of big game winter range. The Harris Ranch acquisition lies within the Smokey-Boise complex identified by IDFG as one of five priority areas in the state for implementing the order. The threats identified for this area in the Idaho State Action Plan include:
- Winter range degradation due to wildfire and invasive weeds.
- Urban, residential, infrastructure, and energy development, and land-use changes within winter range and migration habitat.
- Fencing designs that disrupt big game movements.
- Wildlife-vehicle conflicts within winter range and migration habitat.
As you analyze resource objectives and potential alternatives for the acquisition of this property, we ask that you prioritize wildlife security and habitat conservation over increased recreation opportunities. Developed motorized and non-motorized trail systems adjacent to residential areas further increase the impact on wintering wildlife through direct disturbance, harassment by pets, poaching and stress. Developed recreation use outside of winter periods also contributes to species decline through habitat loss from the trail prism, invasive species spread, increased wildfire risk and illegal use.