US Fish and Wildlife plans easement program in SE Idaho

US Fish and Wildlife plans easement program in SE Idaho

POCATELLO, Idaho - The federal government is looking to buy up development rights in hundreds of thousands of acres in southeast Idaho.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service says it's a win-win for wildlife as well as farmers and ranchers.

The service plans to starts a conservation easement program in the Bear River watershed area, encompassing much of southeast Idaho.

"Where the critical habitat is and protect it for a long term future. The Bear River watershed is a critical watershed," US Fish and Wildlife Refuge Manager Bob Barrett said.

The basic idea is simple, the federal government pays local landowners for the rights to stop any development on that land. And hopes to do so on as many as 920,000 acres.

For the farmer or rancher, along with getting a significant chunk of change, they get to continue using that same land to grow crops or graze cattle.

"I'm interested in it. Most ranchers are land rich and money poor, so this is a way to put money in your pockets while still continuing to do what you do. And that's what I'm looking at," Bret Oxborrow said.

The service said it wants to make clear that it is not against all development in these rural areas.

"We realize there's going to be constant pressure for development and we're not opposed to development. We want to see smart development. We'd like to see development that's away from the river and has as little impact as possible," Fish and Wildlife Refuge Project Leader Tracy Casselman said.

On Thursday the service held a public meeting in Montpelier to get comments on the plan.

Fish and Wildlife representatives said getting public input isn't just a formality, it can make or break the whole program.

"If we have a program that doesn't work for farmers and ranchers, we're done. We're not going to have the trust and support out there in the community to have a viable program," Barrett said.

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