Illegal road bulldozed 2 miles into BLM land
By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Idaho
Department of Fish and Game are investigating an illegally made road that
appeared suddenly near Picabo last month through sage grouse habitat.
The Bureau of Land Management is working to restore
illegal roadwork performed last month near Silver Creek, southeast of
Picabo. Express photo by Travis Purser
Not more than a bulldozed swath through sagebrush, the
road is about two miles long and connects the unpaved Picabo Desert Road
and Silver Creek Road, southeast of Picabo and the B-Bar-B-Ranch owned and
operated by Katie Breckenridge and Rob Struthers.
Struthers, who is said to have had the new road bulldozed
to divert public traffic off Picabo Desert Road and away from the ranch,
declined to comment, and his attorney did not return a call from the Idaho
Blaine County Commissioner Dennis Wright said during an
interview that Struthers had been working unsuccessfully for years within
the established government process to get Picabo Desert Road moved
legally, and "he was just frustrated."
Bill Baker, field manager for BLM Idahoís Shoshone
office, said it is investigating an "unauthorized development of a
road" on the part of Struthers. The investigation, which he said will
be finished in a few weeks, could result in the rancher having to pay to
undo the roadwork. What the cost of that would be is not known.
Baker said a rugged, rarely used jeep trail already
existed at the site of the new road. Recent earthwork makes the trail
wider and flatter.
When asked how nearby sage grouse habitat could be
affected, Fish and Game warden Rob Morris said, "I canít really
give you a good answer." His department was still investigating
whether historic sage grouse mating grounds, called leks, exist nearby. If
so, added traffic could discourage mating.
The section of Picabo Desert Road that cuts through the
B-Bar-B, and which Struthers wants closed, has apparently allowed some
travelers to vandalize ranch property. But Commissioner Wright criticized
Strutherís solution of bulldozing an unapproved alternate route.
"An illegal road is an illegal road," he said. "Iím just
kind of curious how BLM will handle it. It kind of sets a precedent."
If Struthers achieves his goal by ignoring the law, Wright
said, that could encourage others to do the same.
When asked whether that could happen, BLM field manager
Baker said, "I donít know what makes people tick. I canít worry
about those things." Public land already has thousands of roads, he
said. "Itís not a life and death issue out there."
Late last week, workers from Fish and Game and BLM used
two government graders to undo Strutherís work as much as possible.
Baker said that the BLM plans this week to re-seed the area with native
vegetation to prevent "dirt from blowing and noxious weeds from
Returning the area to its original condition, however,
Blaine County Road and Bridge Department supervisor Dale
Shappee said, "It would be kind of like returning Highway 75 to its
Shappee said Blaine County officials made an application
to the BLM, at Strutherís request, in 1995 to have a new road created.
That application has been "on hold," Baker said, because it was
later discovered the application asked for a new road to be built across a
section of private land. Permission from the landowners has not been
Closing the section of Picabo Desert Road that runs
through the B-Bar-B would require a public hearing before the Blaine
County Board of Commissioners, which hasnít yet happened, Shappee said.