The divide between Blaine and Custer counties was on display Wednesday when the two county commissions held an unprecedented meeting to discuss the pros and cons of designating a national monument in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains.
Blaine County has passed a resolution favoring the monument; Custer opposes it. The fact they met is a testament to the tenacity of Blaine Chairman Larry Schoen, who reached out to his counterpart Wayne Butts, chairman of the Custer commission.
Butts repeatedly shot down Schoen's efforts to organize a meeting, saying their differences were too large to make such a get-together productive. He described the difference between the two areas well in the meeting.
"When you view quality of life, it might be standing out here on the mountain range listening to the wolves howl," Butts said. "For us, it's standing out there shooting at 'em and hopefully getting 'em."
Butts eventually agreed to two meetings and acknowledged Wednesday that it was because of his duty as an elected official to listen.
Butts liked what he heard. Wilderness advocates spoke out against the monument, saying they are worried it wouldn't keep out motorized users and mountain bikers. Motorized vehicle users feared that a monument would shut them out.
Many people feared the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allows President Obama to establish the monument with a simple proclamation and without needing the approval of Congress. Some people argued that the area's wilderness study areas have been riddled with motorized trails under the management of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, and doesn't need further protection.
Some people worried that a designation would somehow threaten the existing SNRA. Still others sought to expand the recreation area. Only a few supported a monument.
Paul May of Clayton suggested that instead of establishing a monument, the Obama administration should allow a company to mine the huge molybdenum deposit at the base of Castle Peak to create jobs for Custer County.
Stopping that mine was the reason the SNRA was established in the 1970s and the cause that lifted Cecil Andrus to victory in the governor's race in 1970. Few have suggested reversing that decision. But May's sentiment remind us that it would take only a vote of Congress and a presidential signature to reverse that 40-year-old decision against mining at Castle Peak.
He didn't say anything about the Thompson Creek mine, which still has plenty of molybdenum but is shutting down temporarily because of low prices. But he expressed a view about how much influence he thinks the public should have on management of these special public lands.
"About 15 percent of this is in your county," May told Schoen, according to Brian Smith's report in the Twin Falls Times-News. "So as far as I'm concerned, you ought to have 15 percent input - and 85 percent of the time, you need to keep your mouth shut because it doesn't include you."
I guess that means, in May's eyes, we in Boise, the great state of Ada, should have no say on this place many of us love and have visited repeatedly. And the rest of you Americans: This is May's land, Custer County's land, not yours.
The next meeting of the two counties will be in Challis on May 29.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484