WestViews: Boulder-White Clouds worth attention

December 16, 2013 

(Twin Falls) Times-News

The push to designate more than 550,000 acres north of Ketchum as the Boulder-White Clouds National Monument might not have legs with the White House. But, then again, it just might. And that's why everyone with a stake in the game should pay attention and get involved now.

Here's the skinny: U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, spent a decade pushing for three wilderness areas abutting the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Simpson's Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA) split the Idaho congressional delegation and has languished for years without movement.

Proponents of more protection for the scenic vistas that are Castle Peak, Washington Peak, Jerry Peak and the surrounding lands are looking to sidestep Congress altogether. The president, under the Antiquities Act of 1906, can designate national monuments with a swipe of his pen. It's not the same as a collection of wilderness areas but would essentially achieve the same goal of protecting the land, proponents contend. Bans on future mining claims, limits on the pre-existing mining operations within the proposed area and limits on motorized access to some of the territory's most far-flung reaches would all be part of the package.

There's a huge hitch. The GOP can't stand the Antiquities Act. House Republicans earlier this year unsuccessfully tried to gut the president's ability to single-handedly lock down large swaths of lands. They see it as a way to limit stakeholder and congressional input on regulation. Republicans consider it an intentional circumvention of Congress, which it is. And that is exactly why the plan's backers like the idea.

Congress isn't the most functional legislative body in the world.

For Obama to declare the area a protected monument, he'd have to be willing to thumb his nose at the entire Idaho congressional delegation, Simpson included. Even for a second-term Democrat who's spent the past six years grappling with Republicans on the Hill, it would be a gutsy move.

But that doesn't mean the idea is destined to fade into oblivion as nothing more than an intriguing, failed proposal. The president declared a number of other monuments just this year. Obama is entering the swan song of his administration and has little to lose from angering a few more Republicans.

The presidential declaration would reverse the typical regulatory process. Instead of a pre-regulatory vetting of the limitations placed on the land, the public hearings and stakeholder review would happen after the swath was protected as a national monument.

Limitations on snowmobile and ATV access would be a substantial part of the concept pitched by the plan's proponents, for example. Grazing and other uses would be called into question.

And that's why anyone with an interest in how this land would be managed should get involved now.

The proponents have proven they're willing to listen to all sides and, if a monument is declared, the meaningful part of the process could happen rather quickly.

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