RICK JOHNSON: Maybe it's time for a new national monument in Idaho


July 14, 2013 

Idaho's Boulder and White Cloud Mountains are one of America's crown jewels and prized for their beauty, solitude, and outstanding recreation opportunities. People are passionate about the grand landscape. Passions run high when future management options are considered.

This has long been the case. In the late 1960s, many Idahoans opposed an open-pit mine at the base of the White Clouds' Castle Peak leading to the election of Cecil Andrus as governor in 1970. Sen. Jim McClure spoke out for wilderness in the Boulder-White Clouds in the 1980s. Sen. Mike Crapo, early in his congressional career, also worked for wilderness protection based on his personal experience here and belief in collaboration.

Rep. Mike Simpson has championed this cause for more than a decade, steadfastly advancing a compromise package that once had the backing of all other members of the Idaho congressional delegation as well as two governors. His bill now languishes in a polarized Congress.

As a supporter of Simpson's efforts, I've swallowed hard at tough compromises and learned we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good if we are to get anything accomplished. But Congress is not accomplishing much today.

Watching the legislative process falter, Cecil Andrus began consideration of a Boulder-White Clouds national monument in 2010, based on his considerable experience in President Carter's Cabinet working to protect wild places in Alaska. At ICL's 2012 conference at Redfish he encouraged us to adopt this increasingly obvious option.

A national monument in the Boulder-White Clouds isn't a new idea. In 2008, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne - who as governor of Idaho had supported Simpson's efforts - suggested that they might pursue a monument designation. Simpson chose not to, and ICL agreed.

But five years have passed and Congress appears further than ever from protecting the Boulder-White Clouds. It's time to consider a new path where the president can act by proclamation.

As we explore a monument designation, we must ensure that Idaho values are protected, including the broad set of uses Idahoans enjoy today. This means crafting a solution that reflects the years of work advanced already.

The wilderness values we've sought to protect legislatively are paramount to ICL. A monument designation can better protect those values by giving current land managers across multiple jurisdictions clearer direction.

The Sawtooth National Recreation Area provides some protection, and the sanctity of the SNRA cannot be compromised. A monument designation would provide clearer direction and would help Forest Service managers in their ever more difficult scramble for limited budget dollars. A monument within this portion of the SNRA would complement and enhance Idaho's federal designation.

The Boulder-White Clouds are not entirely within the SNRA. The East Fork of the Salmon River watershed, home to some of North America's highest-elevation salmon and steelhead runs, could be better protected. The rich wildlife of Jerry Peak and Sheep Mountain in the vast east side of the watershed deserves greater protection. The balance of human-powered and motorized recreation and other historic uses could be better defined.

Idaho's rugged independence and anti-federal bias often fail to serve the public land values that support our economy, outdoor way of life, and most certainly Idaho's future.

The Idaho Legislature is again considering ways to take over public lands, Including the Boulder-White Clouds. What new challenges await these fragile landscapes in the decades ahead?

Our treasured lands will not be protected by continued inaction. We hope future generations will look back to this generation and be proud that we seized this unique opportunity to protect a legacy so long debated.

Rick Johnson is executive director of the Idaho Conservation League.

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