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For the week of April 18 through April 24, 2001

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 Mountain Express.

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.

Rob Struthers

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 growing."

Returning the area to its original condition, however, appears unlikely.

Blaine County Road and Bridge Department supervisor Dale Shappee said, "It would be kind of like returning Highway 75 to its original condition."

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 gained.

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.

 

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