The Idaho Fish and Game Commission has asked the US Army Corps of Engineers to end its consideration of a proposal that would build a new, 15-mile recreation trail through crucial winter range for mule deer near the shores of Lucky Peak Reservoir. Displacement of big game from crucial winter range and increased risks of wildfire, soil erosion, and invasive species threatening winter range quality were key adverse impacts noted by the Commission.
The Boise River Wildlife Management Area encompasses 36,000-acres and supports more than 300 species of wildlife including the largest wintering mule deer herd in Idaho, and over a thousand wintering elk. Those animals provide hunting opportunity for the entire Boise River drainage and Unit 39, which is one of the most popular deer and elk hunting units in the state.
The WMA supports about 5,000 to 8,000 mule deer and 1,400 elk each winter, as well as black bear, mountain lion, and a small population of pronghorn antelope. The WMA’s Charcoal Creek Segment on the east side of the reservoir is where the trail is proposed and contains the best remaining winter range on the WMA.
While the WMA offers trails and other recreation, its primary purpose is to provide big game winter range and wildlife-based recreation. Fish and Game Director Ed Schriever said that’s why the department has been expressing concerns about the trail since it was proposed in 2017, and the Commission voted to ask for the trail proposal in its current form to end.
“This is absolutely the right thing to do for Idaho’s wildlife,” Schriever said. “If this trail is built, hunting in Boise River drainage will not be what it is today.”
In addition to the extensive Ridge to Rivers trail system in Boise’s foothills, the Boise River WMA currently has about 5 miles of trails used by hunters and recreationists, mostly on the west side of Idaho 21. The department has annual winter closures to protect wildlife, but closures are often ignored by people who hike, bike and walk dogs in areas set aside for wintering wildlife.
The WMA is managed by Fish and Game, but includes numerous landowners in addition to the department, including the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and other entities. The Army Corps of Engineers owns about 2,800 acres of the WMA.