One of the special things about raising a family in Idaho is the multitude of readily available backcountry recreation opportunities. Almost every family in Idaho that enjoys the outdoors has a few special places they visit time and time again.
Champion Lake in the Boulder-White Clouds was such a place for my family. A few hours' drive from the Treasure Valley would find us at the trail head. After a strenuous hike, we were on the shores of a backcountry lake surrounded by good fishing, a spectacular nighttime sky and some of the most rugged mountains in the state. For years we backpacked as a family into dozens of glistening high-mountain lakes throughout the Boulder-White Clouds. These trips caused us to appreciate the extent of the sprawling rugged landscape, and how the White Clouds, the Boulders and the East Fork Salmon River country together make up one of the most diverse, wild landscapes in Idaho.
While the rugged peaks of the White Clouds awed us, we also came to value the bunchgrass, sagebrush and rimrock country of the East Fork of the Salmon River that supported much of the fish and wildlife that called the larger landscape home. Salmon and steelhead, elk and bighorn sheep, bears and mountain lions all inhabit this unique wild and open country. Unfortunately, much of it is totally unprotected against unwise development, as the majority lies outside the narrow confines of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
I arrived in Congress five years ago determined to protect this special place for my kids and yours. On the day I was sworn in, I was proud to join my Idaho colleague, Rep. Mike Simpson, in walking to the floor of the House, where we jointly reintroduced his carefully negotiated bipartisan bill to protect the Boulder-White Clouds, a bill that included Champion Lake and much of the East Fork of the Salmon Country as wilderness. This bill also protected grazing and bolstered the local economy of the Salmon River valley.
A few months later I was equally proud to vote for Sen. Mike Crapo's Owyhee Canyonlands wilderness legislation, the product of a multiyear collaborative effort by all stakeholders to protect both grazing and wilderness in Southwest Idaho. Unfortunately, only Sen. Crapo's bill became law. Partisan bickering caused Mike Simpson's years of work to produce a workable compromise for the Boulder-White Clouds to languish in a gridlocked Congress. Since then it's only gotten worse, as Congress has become almost totally dysfunctional.
Today I join those Idahoans concerned about promoting tourism, protecting traditional uses and wild places in supporting designating the Boulder-White Clouds as a new national monument.
To minimize harmful development and optimize wildlife management in a dangerously warming world, half a million acres needs both protection and a single management plan. For too long artificial governmental boundaries have worked to the detriment of protecting the fish and wildlife that rely on that interconnected landscape. National monument designation for the Boulder-White Clouds and the East Fork Salmon River country would, once and for all, protect this unique landscape. It requires a unifying management vision that recognizes it as one of the nation's largest and most ecologically diverse wild places. One that won't stay that way unless all who know and love this country step up to take advantage of the opportunity now before us. Given continued congressional inaction, creating a Boulder-White Clouds national monument is the best tool available to protect wild country that all thoughtful stakeholders agree deserves to be passed on like it is today for future generations to cherish and enjoy.
Walt Minnick, of Boise, is a former U.S. congressman.