CANYON COUNTY, Idaho -- For more than two years Canyon County residents have expressed concern that water-skiing or other types of recreation on Lake Lowell would be prohibited under a new management plan for the Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge. But the latest version of the plan is out and those same people say they're surprised and excited.
Refuge managers created a new, 15-year management plan in 2010. When they started putting the plan together there was a possibility that certain types of recreation - like motorboating and water-skiing - might be prohibited or limited to try to preserve wildlife habitat.
Sen. Mike Crapo spoke at a demonstration in 2010 urging refuge managers to take those concerns very seriously. "I can't say that I've seen an issue in Idaho that has generated stronger interest, and concern from the public," Crapo said.
After protests, numerous versions of the plans, public comment periods, heated debate, and threatened lawsuits from the county, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service unveiled their preferred draft of the plan on Thursday. It actually changes very little.
"I was surprised," said Canyon County Commissioner Kathy Alder.
There will be a small 'no-wake zone' in the middle of the lake and a bigger zone at the east end. Cycling, jogging, and horse riding will be limited to certain areas. There will be no competitions like boat races or any on-ice activities allowed. Besides that, things pretty much stay the same.
"Almost every single use that currently occurs on the refuge will be able to continue," said refuge manager Jennifer Brown-Scott. "There will just be some adjustments as to where it happens."
Alder says the process worked thanks to people making their voices heard. "Those types of things matter and make a difference, even to the federal government."
Brown-Scott says using all the public input they could was always part of the plan. "We went out early. We said, 'Give us your ideas on how to make things work.' We took that information and made those preliminary alternatives. And then, we asked again, 'Hey, did we get it right? How can we make it better?' That's how you get the best plan, is to get all those minds working together to come up with a solution."
This plan is still a draft. The 60-day public comment period begins Friday. The final plan should be out later this year.
The plan will be available online at the Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge website on Friday. The refuge is also hosting open houses on March 29 and 30, and April 26 and 27.