Interior Secretary awaits Idaho invitation to talk about Boulder-White Clouds designation

Stanley is asking Obama officials to come in June to discuss a Boulder-White Clouds designation.

rbarker@idahostatesman.comMarch 18, 2014 

  • OREGON, IDAHO CONGRESSMEN SUPPORT FIRE-FUNDING FIX

    Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch returned Monday to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, where last August they called for reforming fire funding.

    This time they brought Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, as well as Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, one of the House's most conservative members.

    Wyden's Oregon colleague, Sen. Jeff Merkley, also was there, as was Idaho Gov. Butch Otter.

    All spoke in support of the Wildfire Disaster Act that Wyden and Crapo are co-sponsoring. Wyden said it was the meeting Aug. 20 with Crapo and Risch - Risch serves on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee with Wyden - that sparked the idea of treating large fires as disasters, when it comes to federal money.

    That will allow the agencies to stop "robbing" other program funds, such as logging and thinning and other fire-prevention steps, to pay for firefighting costs, Wyden said.

    "This is a national shift in fighting wildfire," Wyden said. "It (was) right here in this set of buildings last August."

    Crapo said the bill also will allow collaborative forest programs to keep moving forward, which will speed up resource development.

    "If we can more effectively manage these lands, we will have fewer fires that will become disasters," Crapo said.

    Jewell said passage of the bill will end the uncertainty federal employees now face over their work, including seasonal workers and students in job programs who get cut off abruptly when fire funds run out.

    Labrador said he would like to see less than the current 63 percent of Idaho owned by the federal government. But he supports the bill.

    "As long as it's owned by the federal government, it's our moral responsibility to make sure it's managed well," Labrador said.

    Rocky Barker

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell may want an official invitation from the state's congressional delegation to study the Boulder-White Clouds National Monument proposal, but that's unlikely to happen.

All four Idaho Republican senators and representatives expressed opposition in February to use of the 1906 Antiquities Act by President Barack Obama to designate the central Idaho mountains as a national monument.

But Jewell looks forward to an invitation from local officials.

"I think we would be very happy to meet with the community, whoever invites us," Jewell said in Boise on Monday.

The Stanley City Council authorized letters last week asking Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Thursday or their staffs to meet with the council on or about June 12.

"We want them to explain their intent in more detail and exactly what measures would be required in a management plan to protect the historic, scientific and cultural values," said Councilman Steve Botti.

Designation of a 570,000-acre Boulder-White Clouds National Monument has emerged as a serious option, especially since the death of Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson's bill. His bill would have protected swaths of wilderness while preserving some popular ATV and motorcycle trails. A monument can be created with a president's signature and does not require congressional action; it also has more flexibility in its implementation than does land designated wilderness, which generally bans all mechanized uses, including bicycles.

TWO COUNTIES, TWO VIEWS

The Boulder and White Cloud mountains lie east of Stanley and Idaho 75, and north of Ketchum.

The two counties that contain the 700,000-acre roadless area managed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are on opposite sides of the issue.

Blaine County's commissioners have approved a resolution in support of a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument. Commission Chairman Larry Schoen has been trying to organize several roundtables with commissioners and business people in the two counties.

"We're trying to engage with people who are skeptical and say, 'Let's see, what are the opportunities,' " Schoen said Monday.

Custer County is opposed. Nonetheless, County Commission Chairman Wayne Butts said he would welcome the administration coming to meet with local officials. He even has a venue for them: The Idaho Association of County Commissioners and Clerks is meeting in Challis the week of June 12.

Butts said Obama administration officials could speak at the meeting, or set up its own sessions.

"I think it would be a great opportunity for all the commissioners to sit in the same room" and hear the same details, Butts said.

ACTIVE ADMINISTRATION

Jewell was in California last week to celebrate the decision by President Obama to designate the 1,665-acre Point Arena-Stornetta nature preserve on California's coast as a national monument. It was Obama's 10th monument designation. In January, Jewell met with 150 local residents near the Organ Mountain Desert Peaks area that two New Mexico congressmen are seeking to protect.

Former Interior Secretary and Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus has sought to get the Obama administration to designate the Boulder-White Clouds as a national monument, even before it was clear that Simpson's Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act - a 300,000-acre wilderness proposal - had stalled in Congress.

Jewell met with Andrus on Monday before she met with Idaho's Congressional delegation. Andrus would not comment and only confirmed the meeting.

The Wilderness Society and the Idaho Conservation League lead a coalition that includes mountain-bike and other nonmotorized-recreation groups pressing for a monument.

Motorized-recreation groups opposed Simpson's bill and monument designation for the Boulder-White Clouds, but are in talks with the supporters.

Jewell said she has talked to Simpson about the Boulder-White Clouds - part of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area - and about his CIEDRA bill.

"It is beautiful, and I've been to that area before," Jewell said.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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