Could Idaho's Lake Lowell Be A Lesson For The Oregon Refuge Occupation?

Jan 8, 2016

The occupation of a national wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon has gone on for almost a week. The armed militants there say the refuge is a symbol of government overreach in the West. In Idaho, Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge has been the subject of angst over federal regulations – but with a different outcome.

A western grebe at the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge.
Credit Addison Mohler / US Fish and Wildlife Service

Lake Lowell became a part of Canyon County's cultural history in 1909. That’s when the Bureau of Reclamation created it by diverting water from the Boise River. President Teddy Roosevelt declared the area around the lake a national wildlife refuge at the same time. People began boating on the reservoir soon after. It became a place where lots of recreationists played; there was even a floating dance floor on the water at one point.

Then in 1996, Congress passed a law to protect wildlife refuges. The law banned boating on Lake Lowell, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said could disturb birds and other animals on the refuge. As Canyon County Parks Recreation Director Tom Bicek notes, the change did not sit well with folks in the area.

“There was lots of discussion, a lot of it heated," says Bicek. "There were demonstrations, the federal representatives were all brought in to help mediate the process.”

Like in Harney County, Oregon – Bicek says people were worried about the potential impact the federal rules would have on the economy. But unlike the conflict in eastern Oregon, Bicek says those involved were able to come to a compromise with federal officials. Today, boating is still allowed on Lake Lowell, but only at times of the year when the activity has less impact on wildlife.

Follow reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

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