BLM details reclassification of lands
Protest period under way
"The Wood River Valley is being
set out as its own zone. It’s got a lot of unique issues."
— Rick VenderVoet, Shoshone BLM
Office recreation specialist
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
As part of an effort to reclassify federal
land holdings in the region, the Bureau of Land Management has decided to label
its Wood River Valley holdings with a unique classification.
The reclassification is part of what the
BLM’s Shoshone Field Office calls land tenure adjustment, and the federal
organization released a final draft of the proposed changes on April 21. A
30-day protest period is ensuing before the document is ultimately signed by the
BLM’s Idaho director, KLynn Bennett.
For the past three years, the BLM has
collected public input and worked to compile a document that gives a broad-brush
overview of land-use planning issues in the 1.44-million-acre Shoshone Field
Office, and a small part of the contiguous Four Rivers Field Office to the west.
The document very generally specifies
areas where the BLM should consolidate its ownership and areas where dispersed
holdings should be traded or sold. It also establishes three new Areas of
Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs), where "special management attention is
required" to protect historic, cultural, scenic, fish, wildlife and other
In a draft of the document released last
summer, nearly a dozen ACECs were proposed in some alternatives, including one
at the confluence of the Big Wood River and Warm Springs Creek that was
requested by the city of Ketchum. The BLM did not recommend the Big Wood-Warm
Springs ACEC in its finished document, but the area will likely be kept in
"The amendments change land tenure
adjustment guidance for the entire Shoshone Field Office area by defining land
management areas or zones where public lands are emphasized for retention or can
be considered for disposal," according to a summary of the decision.
So where does the Wood River Valley fit?
"The Wood River Valley is being set out as
its own zone. It’s got a lot of unique issues," said Shoshone Office Recreation
Specialist Rick VenderVoet.
The Shoshone Field Office’s proposed
action stems from an environmental assessment that contained three alternatives.
The proposed action is nearly identical to the preferred alternative, which set
out special provisions for the Wood River Valley.
The action will designate local BLM lands
as an "Area of Influence of the Wood River Valley," otherwise called Zone 5, and
includes lands that are within the "viewshed" of Bellevue, Hailey, Ketchum and
Within Zone 5, acquisition of public
access would be a high priority, and established recreation sites and riparian
areas would be retained.
"Places like Sun Peak (picnic area) have
so many values, so many more than just recreation values. I can’t see us ever
giving it up," said Shoshone Field Office Manager Bill Baker. "We’d never
dispose of it. The only place it would go is to a city or the county for
According to the document, Zone 5 was
created based on public comments and concerns communicated during a federally
required scoping period.
The other zones, numbered one through
four, are labeled on a decreasing scale of the importance of land retention.
Zone 1 lands are ACECs, Wilderness Study Areas, National Monuments or other
areas that must stay in federal ownership. Zone 2 lands are well consolidated
and contain potentially high resource values. Zones 1 and 2 are considered
Zone 3 lands are small to medium sized
blocks of land that are interspersed with private or state holdings. Zone 4
lands are isolated, difficult to manage parcels. Zones 3, 4 and 5 are
The land ownership characteristics of the
Wood River Valley are very similar to Zone 3, according to the draft document.
"Zone 5 is a small land area, with only
121,000 acres of public lands. More acres within the zone are in private
ownership than public ownership. State lands account for 20,000 acres or 7
percent of the zone."
According to a description of the Wood
River Valley, the emphasis will be to consolidate ownership, using a no-net-loss
trading policy within the zone. Management will also "maximize public values,
provide public access and improve efficiencies in public lands management."
"The BLM’s goal for this zone is to
maintain the public land acreage by exchanging public land in other zones for
private land in Zone 5," according to the document.
Additionally, the BLM would prefer to
dispose of lands when necessary via patent to local or state government
entities. VanderVoet said there are a myriad of reasons local governments might
be interested in acquiring some of the BLM’s holdings, including affordable
housing, open space and infrastructure needs, to name a few.