SUN VALLEY — Idaho’s exploding population and growing tourism are causing an increase in conflicts on the rangelands that ranchers depend on for their livelihoods.
There’s more litter, “trigger trash,” trespassing, resource damage and human-caused wildfires, according to the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission. Trigger trash is litter left behind by those who shoot targets.
“Conflict has continued to escalate,” Gretchen Hyde, executive director of the IRRC said during the Idaho Cattle Association annual convention last week.
“This is not just a rancher issue,” she said.
The commission has had success in educating recreationists on Idaho’s rangelands and appropriate use to ensure their safety and long-term access to public lands. But not everyone is hearing or heeding the message.
Mark Pratt, an eastern Idaho rancher and president-elect of ICA, said he was recently gathering cattle when hunters in 15 utility terrain vehicles caught up to the trailing herd and started honking and yelling at the cattle.
UTV riders have also scarred the hills where he grazes, cutting new roads, and recreationists have camped on his private land, leaving a “horrible mess” and tearing up his ditch.
In some cases, people know right from wrong but nobody’s challenging them on it. In other cases, they’re coming from places that don’t have public lands, and it would behoove ranchers to educate them, he said.
The commission bolstered its efforts this year with a lot of outreach to send proactive video messages to recreationists in hopes they’d do the right thing and it would reduce the number of complaints.
The commission produced four in-depth videos on “Life on the Range” this summer about ranching and recreation issues in partnership with the Boise National Forest and the Idaho Rangeland Conservation Partnership.
The videos cover how to open and close livestock gates on public lands; respect for livestock facilities; not camping in the middle of livestock corrals; not shooting holes in stock tanks, which also benefit wildlife; packing out garbage; proper disposal of human waste; proper boat ramp etiquette; anglers co-existing with ranchers in the South Fork Boise River area; researching where to go before an outing; and proper target-shooting practices.
The commission also published a brochure on 10 tips for recreationists and distributed it statewide.
“The onslaught of new people venturing into the outdoors during the last two COVID years has been off the charts … we expect this is going to be the new normal,” said Steve Stuebner, writer and producer of the commission’s “Life on the Range” videos.
Kent Oliver, president of Magic Valley ATV Riders, has seen the issues as well.
“We’ve had a big influx in our state population-wise and with off-highway vehicles,” he said.
Kids are going to YouTube to learn what it’s all about, with videos of off-highway vehicles tearing all over the place, and marketers of off-highway vehicles are selling excitement, he said.
“It’s something we have to work on collectively,” he said.
There needs to be age-appropriate education programs that cover more than safety. His group has been talking about that need and wants to network with ranchers, he said.
Clubs like his educate their members on rangeland etiquette and caring for the resource, but membership in off-highway vehicle clubs is declining, even as OHV purchases are increasing, he said.
He gets angry when he sees people have cut trails off the main BLM or Forest Service roads, he said.
“Idaho is one of those states that has very little open ride. Everything is stay on trails. I’m hoping we can curb this,” he said.
His group does voluntary cleanups and trail repair in the Snake Rim Canyon Park and has had bullets ring past members.
“The amount of shooting debris is unreal … debris and garbage is everywhere,” he said.
He’s seen camping in the South Hills southeast of Twin Falls where it’s not allowed, and “when these kids left you would have thought it was a landfill,” he said.
He’s also seen reclaimed land burned and water-retention ponds destroyed. Ranchers have seen their water troughs shot up, he said.
“We want to work with you because we’re not happy with what’s going on,” he said.
The commission has been fully engaged, partnering with land and wildlife agencies on education. But it needs to be an ongoing conversation, Hyde said.
“There’s a lot of issues going on, and we’re going to see more and more,” she said.
The videos can be found at: https://idrange.org/range-stories/?fwp_category=recreation
More information can also be found at: https://recreate.idaho.gov .