Citizens Meet with Department of Lands Over Road Closure
Citizens around the state have been listening to discussions about empowering the people. State Representative Heather Scott (R-Blanchard) has given her ‘Power of the Engaged Citizen‘ speech enough times for it to take hold.
Jerry Wooten is a citizen of Blanchard. He and his neighbors enjoy using Idaho State public lands near their homes off the Blanchard Loop Road. They have also tried to take care of it, and be good stewards. .
When Jerry and his neighbors saw people illegally harvesting trees on the land they called the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL), the managers of the endowment lands of which this tract is a part. The IDL took note of the situation, yet did not respond.
Several years ago, this forest tract was logged by contractors hired by IDL. The mess that was left by that logging is still there. The mess is disheartening. It certainly does not look like the beauty of Idaho you see in the tourist brochures. The citizens have asked the IDL local office about the numerous slash piles that litter the property, creating a fire hazard. The slash piles are still there.
The land has changed from one of stereotypical Idaho beauty, to one that is nearly unrecognizable, yet the people love it. They ride their ATV’s, hike, and walk their dogs on the numerous established trails throughout the piece of property. Children avoid the traffic of the main highways and use the trails for bike paths. It is also been a popular hunting area for disabled hunters for over 30 years. Many enjoy this piece of land.
Without warning, signs went up that denied access to all wheeled vehicles on the entire piece of land. One young girl cried at the thought of not riding her bike through to her friend’s house. To enforce the point, ‘Tank-Traps’ were dug. Holes up to six feet deep were arbitrarily placed on the entrance roads, and throughout.
Wooten and his neighbors started calling. They continued to call and email until Tom Fleer, of the local IDL office, finally agreed to meet with them on the sight Thursday morning. Rep. Heather Scott was invited, as well as Redoubt News. Over a dozen citizens from the area gathered to meet with Mr. Fleer and the four other employees he showed up with to assess the situation.
After much discussion, Fleer agreed to allow ATV’s use of the land, but he did not agree to allow full sized vehicles. He also did not agree to remove the Tank-traps. The citizens felt a small victory, yet not enough.
When asked about the signage, including a sign that was hand-modified by the department with an ink pen, Fleer agreed to replace the signage. Yet, he has not agreed to remove it.
Fleer stated that the land had to be protected from theft of the trees. The department is insufficiently staffed to monitor it, so they must hire a subcontractor to assist with this chore. He also stated two more issues: Idaho’s population growing
against the urban interface near the property, and the property needed to be managed for profit. They do not currently have plans to clean up the slash piles on the property.
Scott followed up on the situation with the Director of the IDL, Tom Schultz. She contacted him on Friday and he seemed unaware of the situation. He intends to look into it and get back to her next week.
“The Land Board is not directing this,” Schultz told Scott. “We need to reach out to stakeholders before we make decisions that unilaterally impact them.”
Redoubt news will continue to follow this developing situation, as many Idaho recreationists are beginning to feel that government agencies are very eager to not allow them to use their own land. When agencies hear of a problem, the only solution seems to be locking down the land from the citizens that enjoy it.
Will the people get their recreation area back? While they did get partial use returned to them, it was only after they took action. The citizens pursued this issue, and they scored a small victory.
There are other public areas that are being locked down from the public. But, as Rep. Scott keeps telling us, the citizens must empower themselves to take the ‘bull-by-the-horns’ and make a difference in their neighborhoods.
We are pretty sure there will be more to this story, and we will continue to bring you updates as we receive them.