Wildlife agency backs off on lake

Deer Flat

Fish and Wildlife Service proposed closing areas to protect wildlife

By SEAN ELLIS

Capital Press

NAMPA, Idaho --The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service appears ready to drop some of its proposed restrictions on recreation at Lake Lowell.

The lake, which is the heart of the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge, is a manmade reservoir that delivers water to 200,000 acres of farmland in southern Idaho.

The refuge's federal managers say restrictions on recreation are necessary to ensure they meet their federally mandated mission to provide a refuge and breeding grounds for migratory birds and other wildlife.

Opponents of the proposed restrictions, which include farmers, boaters, horsemen and county and state officials, insist the lake's irrigation mission trumps all others.

The USFWS has faced fierce opposition since May, when it released a preliminary draft alternative for managing the refuge that included significant restrictions on boating, fishing, hunting and horseback riding.

The original proposal limited on-water activities such as boating to the western third of the lake and created a no-wake zone in the rest of the lake. It also reduced fishing and hunting opportunities and completely banned horseback riding.

Canyon County commissioners responded with a pointed letter that made the legal case that the lake's irrigation mission trumps all other uses and promised to go to court to stop the proposed restrictions if necessary.

The USFWS on Oct. 25 released some substantial changes to their preliminary proposal that address many of the opposition's main concerns. The agency is now proposing to allow a wake zone in much of the eastern part of the lake while providing a no-wake buffer zone along some portions of the shoreline.

The agency will still propose keeping the far eastern part of the lake closed all year because it's the most biologically diverse part of the refuge.

The new proposal also addresses some concerns of anglers and hunters and allows horseback riding on designated trails.

The new changes strive to strike a balance between the needs of wildlife and recreationists, said Susan Kain, manager of the refuge's visitor's center.

"We're hopeful that people will recognize that we certainly did respond to some of the major objections to the preliminary draft alternative released in May," she said.

The recent announcement is a promising step, but there is more work to be done, said Lindsay Nothern, communications director for Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.

Nothern said the senator is confident the two sides can work out their differences "to achieve a satisfactory outcome that maintains multiple-use of Lake Lowell and all of the refuge."

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