By Mark Barnes
The Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge recently released the third draft of the Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement. This plan outlines the recommended changes to the management plan that will govern the refuge for the next 15 years. Controversy surrounded the previous plan when it was released in 2011 with individuals, organizations and local governments raising objections to the planned changes to recreation at Lake Lowell.
The new plan lists four alternatives. The first alternative is the current status quo that, according the Susan Kain, Visitor Services Manager for the Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge, said does not comply with the law.
“The reason we’re doing this process is because of a Law passed in 1997,” Kain said. “That law required a conservation plan. It changed rules about what it means to be a National Wildlife Refuge. Essentially, because of this law, the status quo does not comply with that law. And, because congress in their infinite wisdom created this new law, we have to follow that law, until they change that law.”
“Option one is there because it’s required to be there,” said Kain. “Options three and four are there because they’re required to be there. Option two is where were headed and that’s where were asking people to focus their attention and comments.”
Changes that generated controversy in the 2011 plan included a reduction of available areas on the lake for recreational boating, banning dogs and horses and limiting access to certain parts of the lake to preserve wildlife habitat.
The updated plan developed with the public’s 2011 comments in mind includes opening up the second “pool” of the lake to recreational boating and includes no permanent on-water closures.
“The horseback riding, the walking of dogs generated a fair amount of controversy,” said Kain. “That would be allowed now on some designated trails.”
The new plan also includes among many proposed changes opening up Gotts Point to vehicles upon implementation of a law enforcement agreement with Canyon County and putting a 25-shell limit per hunter, per day for hunting.
Options three and four are included in the plan and highlight more extreme changes to the conservation plan and reflect the previous preferred options by U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
So far, most of the feedback has been positive but informal according to Kain.
“We’ve done presentations to 10 or 12 groups at this point and to our group of interagency coordinating teams,” she said. “Most of those people think it’s a great change from the preliminary draft alternatives that we released in 2011. We took the comments we heard in 2011 to heart, and we tried to incorporate them as best we could while still complying with the law. For the most part, the controversy seems to have died down.”
The Canyon County Board of Commissioners, which currently includes Steve Rule, Kathy Alder and Craig Hanson, was a vocal opponent to the plan in 2011 has now warmed to the new plan and released the following statement.
“The Board of County Commissioners is pleased with the progress made on the new Comprehensive Conservation Plan for Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge. That being said, there are still some issues that need to be better defined before we can fully support the plan – specifically, the law enforcement duties associated with re-opening the road to Gotts Point and the possibility of further restrictions to recreation once the plan is in place.”
The statement continued, “History shows that Lake Lowell was created for reclamation purposes and that the water rights belong to the irrigators of Southwestern Idaho. We fully believe that Idaho water should be regulated by Idahoans, not by federal bureaucrats in Washington D.C. Our next step will be working closely with irrigators and recreationists to develop our comments ahead of the May 15 deadline and we encourage everyone to do the same. It was community involvement that got us to where we are today, and it will take that same community involvement to ensure Lake Lowell remains an important part of Canyon County for years to come.”
“It’s reasonable,” said Justin Harrison, general manager of Idaho Water Sports in Nampa said regarding the new proposed plan. “I think we can still get some changes for recreation. If they (U.S. Fish and Wildlife) doesn’t do enough it might result in some lawsuits.”
“My guess is that the ice fishing ban and a few other things will likely be changed,” he said. “Maybe move the wake zone back a bit. We can’t expect too much more change.”
Harrison was one of a group of vocal opponents to the changes at Lake Lowell proposed in the last draft in 2011.
“What we need now is comments. Comments, comments, comments,” he said. “We must have some substance and ideas that are realistic in the comments.”
For changes to still happen he said, “People need to read through it and we need the comments.”
There is a public open house held at the Refuge Visitor’s Center at 13751 Upper Embankment Road in Nampa on April 26, from 12 to 6 p.m. and also on April 27, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The final round of public comments will be open until May 15, 2013.
The public can make comments at the Deer Flat Refuge Visitor’s Center.
Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge
1905 – Deer Flat chosen by federal government as site for irrigation reservoir (later renamed Lake Lowell)
1906 – Construction begins on New York Canal
1909 – Water diverted in to New York Canal from Boise River to fill Lake Lowell
1937 – President Roosevelt designates 36 islands on the Snake River as Snake River Islands National Wildlife Refuge to provide habitat for dwindling waterfowl populations
1963 – Deer Flat and Snake River Islands National Wildlife Refuge merge.
1997 – National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act passed to give guidance to the use of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Lake Lowell is one of the largest off-stream reservoirs in the American West.
Snake River Islands encompass over 100 islands distributed along 113 miles of the Snake River.
Photo by Mark Barnes