Robert Ehlert: Boulder-White Clouds has room for everyone

rehlert@idahostatesman.comJuly 13, 2014 

The Boulder-White Clouds National Monument - the BWCNM for short.

Do you think, perhaps, that name and collection of letters will be the final way folks reference it?

In the interim we could call the 590,000-odd acres of wild, beautiful natural bounty in Central Idaho the "Foregone Conclusion National Monument," or FCNM. That seems acceptable, considering the circumstances.

I see it coming. You see it coming. Before her death, Bethine Church advocated for it. Former Idaho governor and Secretary of the Interior Cecil Andrus advocates it, as does a long, long and growing list of others from Idaho who have served at the state and federal level. Some, like Andrus, have high-level connections to the Obama administration.

Over the past year, dozens of letters to the editor and guest opinions on this topic have been published on these pages. While authors weighed in on the national monument issue (and there is a new Guest Opinion on the matter today in this section), the Statesman editorial board hosted a half-dozen different stakeholder groups representing a wide spectrum of thought on the issue. No doubt there is more discussion to come.

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter recently got into the act when he invited Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to visit and participate in a public meeting later this summer regarding the designation of a Boulder-White Clouds national monument.

All this might make you wonder whether there is anybody out there against it, or even sitting on the fence over the possibility (and probability) that Obama will exercise his powers under the Antiquities Act to bestow monument status.

Stepping aside from this groundswell of support for a moment, there are people against this monumental momentum.

Though this might not come as a surprise, nobody in the Idaho congressional delegation is lobbying for monument status - least of all Rep. Mike Simpson, who worked for over a decade with stakeholders to push the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA), which would have, among other things, added wilderness protection to the Boulder-White Clouds.

But CIEDRA has never gotten the congressional traction necessary for passage.

Now, traction is an interesting word, and makes me think of the tens of thousands of people categorized as "motorized recreationists" who explore state and federal public lands with the power of engines on dirt bikes, snowmobiles, ATVs and such.

Having read all of the letters and guest opinions, I can tell you there are people out there who hope the monument designation will shut out or diminish the access these "motorized" folks have. Some of these are the kinds of people who - when they leave their cars behind to get out into nature - don't want to hear anything but what nature offers in the form of bird calls or rushing streams. The last thing they want to hear is somebody's engine revving.

The last thing they want to see are tire ruts carved by something with the torque and tracks that only a motor-generated vehicle can generate. Let's call it what it is: a preference for accessing what belongs to all Idahoans.

On the contrary, I think and hope there is room for everybody on most all of Idaho's public lands, whether they fall within a national monument boundary or not.

I thought this even before meeting with Sandra Mitchell this week. Mitchell is the executive director of the Idaho Recreation Council, which represents most of the people who prefer engine-powered enjoyment with their outdoor experiences.

Just like everybody else, Mitchell sees the national monument status coming. She wishes it wasn't on the table because she thinks the monument idea is a solution in search of an undefined problem.

That said, she accepts the likelihood of it happening and is working with all of the other stakeholders in an effort to make sure the "motorized" voice is heard.

"It can be done in a way that could benefit everyone," she said.

But it can't and shouldn't be done if fueled by any hidden anti-motor agenda.

First of all, there are the numbers - lots of numbers. According to Michell, there are roughly 350,000 off-highway vehicles and the people who use them. Give or take a thousand, there are 35,000 snowmobiles.

The users of these and other recreational vehicles pay out millions of dollars in user fees and licenses.

That pays for a lot of upkeep, parking lots and restroom facilities that everybody can use.

Second, Mitchell said her motorized constituents realize that they don't belong on every path or trail.

"We don't believe that a motor belongs on every public land or that jet boats belong on every river," Mitchell said. "We understand there are appropriate places and we've supported closure of places to motorized use ... . However, we do believe when an area is closed to motorized, it should be for a good reason."

Let's hope it doesn't come to that. There's room for everybody out there. There has always been room.

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman's editorial page editor. Contact him at 377-6437, or on Twitter @IDS_HelloIdaho.

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service