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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of April 30 - May 6, 2003


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

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 natural values.

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 federal ownership.

"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 Sun Valley."

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 protection."

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 "retention areas."

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 "adjustment areas."

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.


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