REGION

Twenty national conservation groups want protection for what they consider environmentally sensitive lands along the South Fork of the Snake River, in the Targhee National Forest and other Idaho sites.The coalition has issued a report calling on Congress to fund land acquisitions in Idaho and elsewhere to protect areas it believes are threatened by development.

"In the past, fewer people were buying land in the thinly populated Western states like Idaho," Linn Kincannon, public lands associate for the Idaho Conservation League, said in a news release Saturday. "Today, developers are searching for sites for private homes and condominium developments in increasingly remote areas."

The Conservation League and The Wilderness Society worked together on the proposal recommending acquisition of Idaho land containing critical wildlife habitat, wetlands, blue-ribbon trout streams and recreational access.

Besides the South Fork and Targhee National Forest sites, Idaho conservationists recommend acquisition of 3,500 acres of natural wetlands in Custer County to protect ducks, whooping cranes and trumpeter swans.

They also called for acquisition of land within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and for scenic easements on the Wild and Scenic River corridor of the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River.

"Development of these parcels could close off a beautiful area forever from the public's enjoyment, restrict or eliminate access for hunting, fishing or hiking, and destroy valuable wildlife habitat," Kincannon said.

She and The Wilderness Society's Betsy Buffington said in a news release that money for the Idaho acquisitions could come from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the federal government's primary funding source for the purchase of important natural and recreational areas.

Appropriations from the fund have averaged $230 million a year over the past decade. But the conservationist coalition called Saturday for appropriating $964 million in the budget year that begins Oct. 1, plus $200 million in matching funds that would go to states and localities for various recreation projects.

That would make Idaho's share almost $1.9 million, Buffington and Kincannon said.