Larry LaRocco: Coming together for the sake of the Boulder-White Clouds

GUEST OPINION: IDAHO WILDERNESS

May 7, 2014 

Idaho's state song, "Here We Have Idaho," begins: "You've heard of the wonders our land does possess, its beautiful valleys and hills."

Nobody knows better than Idahoans when it comes to working out a compromise to protect our majestic state treasures. The ongoing discussions on designating a national monument for the Boulder-White Clouds promise to be a vivid demonstration of the power of Idahoans of different interests sitting down together to develop a plan for protecting a unique place.

I had the pleasure of watching such a powerful process when I worked for Sen. Frank Church in the late-1970s. At that time, the future of the rugged Gospel Mountains and the Buffalo Hump country were mired in a bitter, divisive controversy about logging, wilderness, the needs of the local economy, and superb hunting and fishing opportunities. Sen. Church facilitated a collaborative process to resolve the dispute. That process included local residents from a wide diversity of interests who did not routinely talk to each other, much less work toward a common goal. However, these folks rolled up their sleeves, producing a solid compromise on what lands would and would not be wilderness.

No one got everything they wanted, but Church's effort fostered a home-grown compromise. Today, the rugged Gospel-Hump Wilderness is widely enjoyed by many Idahoans, and the logging industry remains an important part of the local economy.

Church used a similar approach on the St. Joe River, where opposing interests fought its classification under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Again, local Idahoans came together to forge an agreement and protect a treasure.

During my time as Idaho's 1st District congressman, I spearheaded statutory protection of another of Idaho's treasures: the Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. Cecil Andrus had administratively protected the Birds of Prey during his term as secreatry of interior, and in 1993 I guided Public Law 103-64 through Congress, which permanently protected the Birds of Prey area as the nation's eighth National Conservation Area. I was honored to finish the job started by Andrus and other Idahoans years earlier.

In a similar way, national monument designation for the Boulder-White Clouds will complete the job started 40 years ago by Sen. Church with the creation of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. That action saved Castle Peak in the White Clouds from the desecration of an open pit mine and put in place protections for the beautiful Sawtooth Valley and wilderness. But the job of comprehensively protecting this special landscape remains undone. The recreation area boundaries did not include the remarkable East Fork Salmon River country, which is integral to sustaining the fish and wildlife of the larger Boulder-White Clouds landscape. The BLM, which manages much of the East Fork country, rarely coordinates its management with its sister agency in the White Clouds. Each agency has its own priorities and mandates. The result is a patchwork of priorities with no single entity responsible for ensuring that the entire Boulder-White Clouds and East Fork landscape, with its interconnected resources, is recognized and managed for its long-term integrity.

Rep. Mike Simpson's effort to bring such integrity to the Boulder-White Clouds fell victim to the gridlock of today's Congress. Now Idahoans, following the example of the earlier efforts, are developing a home-grown national monument proposal for the Boulder-White Clouds, a landscape that deserves our best efforts. Let us continue to be the state where romance lies in her name.

LaRocco, a former U.S. congressman, lives in Boise.

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