Rocky Barker: Blaine County takes the lead in shaping monument

Idaho StatesmanJanuary 27, 2014 

The Blaine County commissioners aren’t waiting until the Obama administration comes to Idaho with some definite plans for a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument.

Chairman Larry Schoen said Thursday that the commissioners are drafting a resolution in support of the concept of a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument after 50 people gave their views on the issue Wednesday night.

Many in the crowd agreed with former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus and a coalition of environmental, sportsmen and recreation groups that the time has come for more protection for the two mountain ranges and the public lands in the East Fork of the Salmon River watershed. Others wanted to wait until they hear the details.

Still others, including snowmobilers and motorized trail bikers, continued their opposition to any changes in management that could close them out of places they love to ride. But most at the meeting pushed the approach, ultimately chosen by the commissioners, to urge the Obama administration to pattern a monument along the lines of Republican Rep. Mike Simpson’s Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act.

That would protect about 300,000 acres as wilderness but allow grazing, snowmobiling, mountain biking and motorcycling to continue in other parts of the 760,000 acres.

Recognizing the concerns of the Sawtooth Society, which has been critical of the monument process so far, Schoen said the commission’s resolution would urge the Obama administration to ensure that the Sawtooth National Recreation Area is not undermined.

But given that Congress has not been able to pass Simpson’s CIEDRA bill, the commissioners want action.

“The board thinks protection under a national monument is warranted but we have some concerns about how that will be done,” Schoen said.

The commission’s decision to write the resolution comes at an interesting time.

Friday, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell joined New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich on a visit to the Organ Mountains of south-central New Mexico that is also under consideration as a national monument.

In November, Jewell said in a speech to the Press Club the Obama administration would “take action” to protect more than a dozen areas that have wide support for protection if Congress doesn’t. But she added, “We won’t be focusing our energy where there is a whole lot of conflict.”

That’s what made her trip to the Organ Mountains noteworthy. Udall and Heinrich have an amended bill in Congress to designate the area a national monument and protect 450,000 acres, with nearly half designated as wilderness.

Their bill has attracted opposition from a sheriff’s group and Americans for Responsible Recreational Access, a motorized recreation group that prefers a Republican congressman’s smaller proposal.

By going to New Mexico, Jewell is signaling that her “whole lot of conflict” test doesn’t does mean the administration will insist on no conflict.

Schoen argues that Simpson’s bill had, at one point, support from the entire Idaho delegation and was based on 30 years of bipartisan support for Boulder-White Clouds protection.

Blaine County is one of Idaho’s rare Democratic bastions and is where Secretary of State John Kerry and his wife, Teresa — who supports Green causes — have a second home. You can expect the commission’s resolution to help steer the administration’s efforts.

Schoen said the Blaine commissioners want to bring the public along with more hearings before their final vote on the resolution. And while they want a “single public management entity” in charge of the monument, they aren’t going to demand it be situated in Blaine County, recognizing Custer County’s interest in having the headquarters there.

“I don’t know that where the headquarters is located is the most important component,” Schoen said.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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