The United States Senate approved a bill today (8/4/15) that will create three new wilderness areas in central Idaho. A similar measure passed the House of Representatives last week and is known as the Boulder-White Clouds bill. If signed by President Obama, it will add strict protection to 275,000-acres north of Sun Valley in Blaine and Custer Counties.
The effort to create additional wilderness in Idaho has been directed by Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson who began this effort more than a decade ago. The House passed the bill last week (July 27, 2015) and today (August 4, 2015) said “the passage of this bill is a huge victory for Idahoans who’ve worked for over 15 years to create a land management plan for the Boulder White Clouds,” said Simpson. “I am grateful for each and every person who participated in crafting this solution over the years and I am especially grateful to Senator Jim Risch who worked relentlessly to see this pass the U.S. Senate today.”
But despite support from a wide range of organizations, there is a feeling by some that wilderness wasn’t the better of two options. The second option on the table was a possible monument status that only needs Presidential authority. That power to designate a monument comes from the century old Antiquities Act. The difference, wilderness requires Congressional approval and provides stronger protections while a monument by Presidential authority could allow a wider mix of recreational use. The hardest part of wilderness for some is a reduction in groomed trails currently open to mountain bikers and ATV use. Wilderness prohibits motorized and mechanized travel.
Recreational groups have fought hard against Congressman Simpson’s efforts to create more wilderness. It stalled a bill introduced back in 2010 often known as CIEDRA which stands for “Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act.” Congressman Simpson has in recent years worked with recreation groups to help write the bill in it’s current form. As part of the deal, some of the trails open to motorized and mechanized vehicles will remain open. But there will be other trails that will be closed permanently.
Rick Johnson with the Idaho Conservation League said in a statement following today’s Senate action “from our perspective, this wilderness bill could have been stronger. The national monument proclamation ICL and others have been working towards over the last three years would have protected more acreage. However, we understand that legislation requires compromise. The conservation community had to give some—and so did other stakeholders. At the end of the day, we are pleased that one of Idaho’s most pristine wildernesses gets the lasting protection it deserves.”
To learn more about the Boulder-White Clouds, watch this video short – part of Idaho Public Television’s Outdoor Idaho “50-years of Wilderness.
I also teamed up with The Idaho Statesman’s Rocky Barker to produce this piece that offers more insight into the views of those on both sides of the wilderness/monument efforts.
To see a map of the area, click the link below that will direct you to a PDF file.
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