Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Protecting wintering wildlife should come first

As Idaho's population grows and areas once considered wild lands become urbanized, wildlife faces a tough time finding secure habitats as it is pushed from familiar surroundings by new housing.

Thus, everyone must share in finding ways to protect the wildlife that add beauty and mystique to natural areas.

Snowmobilers are stressed because of a proposed seasonal closure of some 160,000 Bureau of Land Management acres in the southern Wood River Valley to protect wintering wildlife when needed.

Some snowmobilers deny their machines have any impact on elk and deer, and blame preying wolves as the major threat to wildlife.

However, the BLM draft plan, which still must be approved, is the product of serious input from biologists whose work it is to study wildlife habits and to suggest methods of protection when food is scarce. They have recommended that some feeding areas should be isolated from human activity during harsh winter months.

The notion that snowmobilers should be entitled to travel through wild lands without restriction, especially in areas where big game seek refuge to feed, should be rejected. Owning a snowmobile is not a license for unrestricted use of public lands. As snowmobiles became faster and more popular and thus more prevalent in the winter backcountry, they also intruded more on the quiet that wildlife require as part of their survival.

As the BLM and the Blaine County Commission move toward a decision, this current dispute must necessarily rely heavily on the professional recommendations and goodwill of the biologists, not recreationists whose self-interests are narrower and less civic. Were it not for sensible programs devised by professionals to protect wildlife, whole herds of elk and deer and moose might be extinguished by reckless abuses of unthinking outdoors groups unskilled in the ways of nature.

Snowmobilers are not alone in being restricted in their travels. The BLM and the Forest Service also have used their authority to close side canyons and creek areas in the valley to all users to protect wildlife. Long stretches of the valley's creeks and rivers also are limited to catch-and-release with few squawks from fishermen who understand the need for conservation.

That said, the BLM along with experts in wildlife sciences could find suitable areas to be set aside for snowmobilers. Surely, in this vast wonderland, snowmobilers can fill their need for speed and exploring the backcountry without intruding on wildlife habitat and jeopardizing the state's genuine natural assets.

This is a time to work together for what's good for wildlife.

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