CALDWELL -- Lake Lowell's days as a favorite recreational boating destination in Canyon County could be numbered if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has its way. The federal agency released a draft proposal Friday for the management of Lake Lowell. It didn't take long for state and local leaders to slam it.
Jennifer Brown-Scott with the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge says the proposed draft is a compromise between recreational boaters and wildlife.
"This isn't the end, this is only the beginning. Folks have a lot of opportunities to comment and get their thoughts heard,” said Brown-Scott. “The more we hear from folks the better plan we get.”
And that’s the reason for another round of public comment that begins June 3, 2011. The public will be able to comment on four options, referred to as Alternatives 1-4, which propose the future of Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge.
Fish and Wildlife must work within a 1997 law that provides parameters for wildlife refuges. It was that law led them to the four options.
"Those comments that help us [work within that law], obviously, those are the ones that we are able to use," said Brown-Scott.
While there are four options, there are two that have garnered the most attention, the Alternatives one and three.
Brown-Scott leans to Alternative three, which limits water sports to a portion of the lake, and prohibits non-wildlife dependent group activities like high school jogging and sailing regattas.
"We have to make sure that the comments that we're using, are making a plan, that again, leads us to what the law tells us to do, which is to make sure that ultimately we're not detracting from the purpose as a refuge," said Brown-Scott.
Canyon County Commissioner David Ferdinand argues the purpose of the refuge and Lake Lowell.
"It wasn't a wildlife refuge when it was first built [in 1906]," said Ferdinand. "In 1997 it became a wildlife refuge first, and a recreation area, not at all."
Ferdinand prefers the first plan, or the way Lake Lowell has been managed since the early 1900's.
"We were trying to manage this together over the several years. That's been successful. Prove to us that it didn't work. It's worked so far the last 102 years," said Ferdinand.
Ferdinand says his county is heavily invested into the lake - to the tune of 20 million dollars. He says they put in the docks, managed the parks and provided education to the public.
"Do I think that they would take our comments? I'm sure they're writing our comments down," said Ferdinand. “What they're going to do with them remains to be seen."
Ferdinand says he and the other Canyon County Commissioners are working with Idaho’s congressional leaders to try and get the 1997 law changed, but that will take some time.
In the mean time, the public has several opportunities to have its voice heard. The first is Friday and Saturday June 3-4 at the Lake Lowell Visitor’s Center. The public comment period ends July 29.
When it ends, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will take the comments and create a new draft. The plan is to present the new draft in the spring of 2012. That will follow more public comment over the summer. The final draft would then be presented in the fall of 2012.
Until that final draft, boating at Lake Lowell will stay the same, meaning no changes this summer.
Three of Idaho's congressional leaders also weigh in on these proposed changes.
Here are the entire statements from Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, as well as Congressman Raul Labrador.
Senator Mike Crapo
"Lake Lowell has a one-hundred year track record of outstanding performance when it comes to wildlife protection, and use by recreationalists, sportsmen, irrigators and a host of multiple user groups,” said Crapo. “While I will review this latest proposal from the agency in depth, I encourage the public to again weigh in and I pledge that I will continue to work with citizens, local leaders and my Delegation partners and the agency to help craft a permanent solution.
"I am disappointed with today's announcement because it appears this may be a case of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposing a solution that is in search of a problem. My feeling can be generally categorized as 'if it isn't broken, don't fix it.' Based on this preliminary recommendation, it appears that the agency may simply be satisfying a bureaucratic requirement that ignores the facts on the ground."
Senator Jim Risch
"When Deer Flat NWR was created more than 100 years ago it was originally a refuge,” said Risch. “However, it use has changed drastically over the last century and today the community successfully balances the needs of all users and recreational use has expanded greatly. The Fish and Wildlife Service needs to recognize that reality.
"I am particularly disappointed that FWS made a decision to ratchet back the recreational use enjoyed by so many people in Canyon County over the years. It is critical that the FWS reevaluate its proposals so that it maintains recreational use at least at current levels."
Congressman Raul Labrador
"I am disappointed in the proposed alternatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the future uses of Lake Lowell because they all, in one form or another, further restrict long established uses without specific scientific basis,” said Labrador.
"Local government, particularly the Idaho Department of Fish & Game and the Canyon County Commission, have a long and admirable track record of managing the lake and protecting the wildlife that uses the lake as a refuge.
"These new proposals totally ignore this and are completely unacceptable to me. I will be consulting with my Delegation colleagues on whatever steps we can take to ensure these draft proposals go nowhere except into the dust heap of history."
For more detailed information on the proposed draft Alternatives click here.