Jerry Brady: Precious Central Idaho land deserves national monument


April 17, 2014 

Time and again Idahoans have taken the initiative to save special places they loved. That's why we have the largest wilderness in the Lower 48 states and have preserved everything from Upper Priest Lake in the north to the Owyhee Canyonlands in the southwest and Stanley Basin and the magnificent Sawtooth Range in Central Idaho.

Today, Idahoans are taking up the challenge of finishing a job started by Sen. Frank Church back in 1972: adding the Boulder-White Clouds to the ranks of Idaho landscapes secured for future generations.

It has become quite clear since 1972 that the Boulder-White Clouds are much more than spectacular peaks. The region around the high country is unique. Protecting it would serve many purposes. To preserve world-class hunting opportunities, winter range for elk, deer and bighorn sheep in the East Fork of the Salmon River needs protection it does not now enjoy, since most of it is not in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Protecting summer range doesn't mean much if we don't protect winter range and the migration routes connecting the two.

In 1972, salmon and steelhead populations were not plummeting, as they are today. Restoring populations of these iconic fish requires protecting cold, high mountain streams and rivers in the White Clouds and the East Fork, the site of spawning beds for some of the longest migrations on earth.

Today's White Clouds face challenges unimagined by Sen. Church. More powerful snowmobiles - and motorcycles converted into snow vehicles - can push into winter backcountry once beyond reach. Off-road vehicles are capable of scarring trails and digging new ones. Power-assisted mountain bikes are already a fact of life. This is fragile country. All recreational uses of the White Clouds must be measured by their effect on what makes the White Clouds so special. If not, unique values will be lost.

Preservation of a big landscape requires treating it as a whole. The Boulder-White Clouds are chopped up between too many management entities, none ultimately responsible for the integrity of the land. A recreation area, two national forests and the Bureau of Land Management manage one section or another. This piecemeal approach has not dealt well with the challenges so far, and the challenges will only grow as population and technology increase.

Designating the Boulder-White Clouds as a national monument would provide stewardship the current mishmash of management will never achieve. One entity - a national monument like the Craters of the Moon - would protect our diverse recreation, the wild character of the land, salmon and steelhead strongholds, irreplaceable wildlife populations, and hunting and fishing resources.

Each time a special place was considered for special protection in the past, Idahoans were told it would never work, for one reason or another. Yet today these are the places that make Idaho, Idaho. A generation from now it will be quite clear we were wise to add the Boulder-White Clouds to that list.

Jerry Brady is a former Democratic candidate for governor and a member of the Idaho Conservation League Board of Directors.

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