Our View: Monument talks should be inclusive effort

December 15, 2013 

Proponents of a National Monument designation for the Boulder-White Clouds in Central Idaho have two problems and one advantage.

Problem One: A monument is a solution to a problem many Idahoans don’t know, or believe, exists — how to ensure long-term preservation of treasured wilderness and watersheds.

Problem Two: A monument is likely an invitation for more federal input in Idaho. The jury is out on how flexible or accessible the land would be for users. But the prospect of additional federal funding to manage it seems likely.

Advantage One and Two are less of a factor if President Barack Obama’s administration chooses to play a card called the Antiquities Act that many administrations before have exercised. It gives presidents power to preserve places without a vote of Congress — and, some worry, without a local vote of confidence.

Our editorial board benefits from hearing arguments from proponents and opponents of a monument. What we have learned and what we can share is that there is a certain, yet vaguely visible, process underway to outline and create a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument status.

We can say here and now that this beautiful, wild and wonderful region deserves to be protected with every ounce of collaborative stewardship effort Idaho stakeholders can muster. But it has to be an inclusive effort recognizing the spectrum of use — from mountain bikers to motorized users, hunters, ranchers and the most ardent wilderness supporters. To use a retail analogy, it must consider the REI crowd, the Cabela’s crowd, the Carl’s Cycle crowd and the people who navigate among all three.

The Statesman champions stewardship efforts. We have supported Rep. Mike Simpson’s laudable 10-year wilderness protection effort with the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act — CIEDRA — which now seems fatally stalled.

So now comes a push for a national monument.

But how? Where? When? And where is the information clearinghouse where Idahoans can monitor and shape a No Surprises BWC Monument process?

This process demands transparency and won’t benefit, in the long run, from back channel lobbying that creates winners and losers. We are encouraged stakeholders with different agendas are reaching out. As an example, Rick Johnson of the Idaho Conservation League and Sandra Mitchell, executive director of Idaho Recreation Council are having candid and fruitful discussions.

Most of the people we have met desire to sort of freeze frame the access to these lands they have now and consider ways to preserve additional lands for the future, particularly in the East Fork Salmon River watershed.

So, what would define this National Monument?

A region proposed by wilderness and conservation-minded activists is located almost entirely within Custer County with cities such as Stanley, Challis, Mackay and Ketchum/Sun Valley on the “outside” as possible gateways.

It considers areas now under the jurisdiction of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and a tract (for sake of argument) of similar size due east now managed by a combination of U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and scattered state of Idaho parcels. The multi-jurisdictional patchwork together would measure about 570,000 acres.

The U.S. government has made statements and intimations that the Obama administration is considering monument status for BWC. The Department of Agriculture is said to be taking the lead, though Sally Jewell, secretary of the interior, warns Congress the Administration will act if Congress does not.

Will monument status lure so many people that the masses will love the land to death? Will the infusion of larger “buckets” of federal funding stimulate tourism? What about the ranchers and miners who occupy and work these lands?

Former Gov. Cecil Andrus is in favor of a monument. Simpson would still prefer the CIEDRA plan, which creates more wilderness areas. Rep. Raul Labrador thinks a monument is a terrible idea.

We think the Statesman is part of the clearinghouse for information, largely through the reporting of Rocky Barker. But we also think Jewell and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack must communicate what is known, as it is known.

Just in case they don’t, we encourage you to contact them, as we do during this process.

Here are some options:

The Interior Department website says Jewell is available at twitter.com/SecretaryJewell.

Call Vilsack’s office at (202) 720-3631.

“Our View” is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.

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