Letters From the West

BLM closes area east of Payette to protect rare plant

Packard's milkvetch (BLM photo)

Packard’s milkvetch (BLM photo)

The Bureau of Land Management has proposed closing 5,620 acres in Payette County to protect a rare plant.

The closure would protect the habitat for Packard’s milkvetch, a flowering plant that only occurs in a 10-square mile of rolling grassland east of Payette. The BLM is seeking to steer off-road motorized use to public lands next to Big Willow Creek, 15 miles east of Payette.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently designated the plant a candidate species for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The milkvetch grows in light-colored sedimentary outcroppings, with soil properties different than the surrounding grasslands that likely allowed the plant to avoid competition from other native plants.

But cross country motorized use has fragmented its habitat and helped bring invasive species in that compete with it for moisture and nutrients.

The BLM is proposing travel designations where motorized cross country travel is allowed, , limited to designated trails and closed. The area designations are scheduled to take effect by the fall of 2013.
Approximately nine miles of trails would be designated for motorized use. The BLM will fence the open area to delineate the boundary and mark designated trails.
A parking/staging area will be developed adjacent to Big Willow Road with signs showing the off-road area designations. Signs will also be used to identify trails remaining open and those that are closed.
Closed trails will be physically blocked by boulders across the routes and by other means.
“These travel designations would allow motorized vehicle use to continue on designated trails and provide for hill climbing opportunities in certain areas while insuring the protection of the plant and its habitat from further damage,” said Terry Humphrey, field manager of the BLM Four Rivers Field Office.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West