Paul Hill: Sawtooth monument would be more trouble than it's worth

June 23, 2014 

The Boulder-White Cloud mountains, seen here from Castle Peak. At 350,000 acres, the Boulder-White Clouds are the largest tract of Idaho's roadless acres.

For 17 years, the Sawtooth Society has worked to preserve, protect and enhance the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, helping negotiate and fund scenic/conservation easements covering over 3,000 acres; investing over $650,000 in recreation facilities and services; initiating the largest volunteer projects program in area history; and sponsoring education programs reaching more than 1,000 folks annually. So, as the Sawtooth NRA's leading nonprofit advocate, why wouldn't the society enthusiastically endorse the idea of a national monument overlay on nearly 40 percent of the NRA? Wouldn't that just add more protection? Sadly, as currently proposed, it would not!

Among other concerns, the proposed monument would:

• Divide management of the Sawtooth NRA into two separate plans - one for the monument-overlaid NRA portion to be handled jointly by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, and the other for the remaining NRA handled by the Forest Service - requiring more management time and resources, creating decision delays, and generating potential confusion and conflict.

• Bifurcate management of three major river fisheries (the Upper Salmon, Big Lost and Big Wood rivers) into separate regimes for portions inside and outside the proposed monument.

• Increase recreational traffic on the Boulder-White Clouds' fragile environment and already strained infrastructure and emergency services.

• Fail to make any provision for additional funding to address these challenges.

In view of this, only a compelling threat, or clearly identified set of additional benefits, that can be addressed or delivered by a national monument proclamation alone would seem to justify the highly unusual step of overlaying a monument on an already well-protected recreation area.

Given the absence of any identified present threat, monument proponents have suggested a number of benefits, such as better control of motorized/mechanical traffic; a unified plan for managing the East Fork of the Salmon River; restricting mining activities and fostering more "wilderness character." In fact, these issues are already part of the ongoing management planning and rules of the Sawtooth NRA and are being or can be effectively addressed within existing NRA laws, regulations, management plans and the long-range plan (Sawtooth Vision 20/20), without the negative impacts noted above. Sadly, proponents have foregone the existing NRA-provided alternatives in favor of pursuing the radical step of creating a new bureaucratic overlay through a risky, possibly closed-door presidential proclamation process with an unforeseeable outcome.

Since more than half the proposed monument lies outside Sawtooth NRA protections, why not focus the discussion on that area and use the NRA's well-established, predictable tools to deal locally with any problems in the NRA? Why jeopardize Sawtooth success for the illusion of additional wilderness protections (which only true wilderness legislation can provide)?

The society remains open to a persuasive case for overlaying a national monument or to a proposal without an NRA overlay. The exclusive focus of the society's mission on the Sawtooth NRA precludes taking a position on whether creating a national monument to protect selected lands outside the boundaries of NRA protection makes sense. But as far as the Sawtooth area is concerned, evidence to date clearly indicates that a monument overlay is unnecessary and would be a major mistake.

The society is committed to protecting the Sawtooth NRA in the best ways possible, and we urge others sharing this view to speak out. For information and maps on the proposed national monument, please visit www.sawtoothsociety.org.

Paul D. Hill, of Stanley, is president of the Sawtooth Society.

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