Ed Cannady compares his personal fight with cancer and Republican Rep. Mike Simpson’s quest to protect the Boulder-White Clouds to climbing a rocky ridge with no apparent route up.
Cannady, a wilderness ranger in the Boulder-White Clouds with the U.S. Forest Service since 1988, knows the area better than any living person. He has been at Simpson’s side during his many trips into the wonderland of mountain lakes, peaks and forest that soon might be protected as wilderness.
He has watched twice as Simpson’s efforts have been quashed in Congress over the past 13 years. But this time, Simpson was able to get the bill approved by the House and to the Senate floor. And Cannady has fought his cancer into remission, so he has been able to return to the craggy ledges and trails he has walked since he first came to the White Clouds in 1973.
“No matter how great the obstacle, there almost always is a way through,” Cannady says today.
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Cannady, 58, grew up in Oklahoma and moved to Parma in the early 1970s, getting him close to the mountains that had been his dream. He loved the idea so much that he moved to Alaska in 1975 and lived in the bush for two years.
“That was pretty intense for a 19-to-20-year-old,” Cannady said.
He returned to Idaho and in the 1980s enrolled at Boise State University. He got interested in public land policy issues, studying under BSU professor John Freemuth.
“Ed’s passionate about the Boulder-White Clouds,” said Freemuth. “He wants to see it protected, but he has to be careful because he works for the Forest Service and he can’t be an advocate. I think he approaches it that way.”
FIGHTS AND REGRETS
In 1988, Republican Sen. Jim McClure introduced a bill to protect 1.6 million acres as wilderness statewide and 100,000 acres in the White Cloud Mountains. McClure negotiated the bill with then-Gov. Cecil Andrus, who had won his first election in 1970 campaigning against a mine proposed at the base of Castle Peak in the White Clouds. The proposed mine died when the area was included in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in 1972 as a wilderness study area.
Cannady served as a lobbyist for the Idaho Conservation League while attending BSU. His group opposed the McClure-Andrus bill, holding out for protection of 495,000 acres in the Boulder and White Cloud mountain ranges east of the Sawtooths and Highway 75 and north of Ketchum.
Simpson’s bill would protect 275,665 acres in the Boulder-White Clouds and the adjacent Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness. Cannady says now that the 1980s opposition was a mistake because the area would be better protected today had the bill passed.
He moved on, becoming a seasonal wilderness ranger for the Forest Service in the Boulder-White Clouds and eventually a full-time ranger, with added responsibilities in the nearby Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
In 2002, Simpson began working on a bill to create a wilderness in the Boulder-White Clouds and to help the rural communities of Custer and Blaine counties that surround the area. When Simpson introduced his first bill in 2004, he hiked into the Chamberlain Basin in the White Clouds with Cannady.
A thunderstorm moved in. Cannady had erected a rain fly so he could cook and get his group out of the weather. But Simpson chose instead to stand out in the sleet, buffeted by the wind, watching the clouds spiral around Castle Peak.
“Isn’t this the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen,” Cannady remembers Simpson saying.
“That’s when I realized he’s a man after my own heart,” Cannady said. “We got snowed on and he endured it and loved the trip.”
It was the first of many Cannady hikes with Simpson, congressional aides, environmentalists and even Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. He helped Simpson with maps and explained tradeoffs and the ecological impacts of various proposals.
In 2006, Simpson’s bill to protect more than 300,000 acres as wilderness passed the House and was included in the final package of legislation Congress would approve before it went home. At the last hour, outgoing House Speaker Dennis Hastert replaced it with a bill that benefited his district.
Simpson tried again in 2010, with the entire Idaho delegation on board. Before the Senate held a hearing, changes made by committee staff and lobbying by motorized recreation groups prompted Idaho Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo to withdraw their support.
That prompted Andrus, a former U.S. secretary of interior, to urge President Barack Obama to proclaim the Boulder-White Clouds a national monument. He had convinced President Jimmy Carter to use the Antiquities Act of 1906 to set aside millions of acres in Alaska that led Congress to pass the Alaska Lands Act in 1980, and wanted Obama to use the act to protect the Boulder-White Clouds the same way.
In 2011, Cannady learned he had a cancerous tumor in a lymph node next to his vena cava artery. Then he got a divorce.
He went through chemotherapy and today his cancer is in remission, allowing him to return to his work and the places he loves. Over the years he has gone into the Boulder-White Clouds every way allowed — hiking, mountain biking, motorcycling, snowmobiling and horseback riding.
The national monument push gathered steam in 2012, with conservation groups, sportsmen, outdoor recreation businesses, Ketchum, Blaine County and Boise Mayor Dave Bieter joining the chorus for a presidential monument designation. The proposal that emerged encompassed more land than had Simpson’s proposed wilderness, and offered more flexibility in management than wilderness, in which all mechanized travel and devices are banned.
The monument talk gave Simpson an opening to resume his push for the wilderness bill he’d drafted over the years with input from all over Central Idaho.
Early this year, he and Risch reached agreement on a bill that had wide support from ranchers, snowmobilers and others opposed to a monument, as well as environmental groups, including the Idaho Conservation League, the Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club and the Pew Charitable Trust. Crapo signed on in the Senate, and a lukewarm Raul Labrador did not fight it in the House.
Cannady didn’t take sides. As he has since he went to work for the Forest Service, he has served all of the people who use the area.
“So many people fight over this place, that is proof they love it,” Cannady said.
In Simpson’s floor statement published in the Congressional Record, the Idaho Republican thanked a long, diverse list of people and had special words for Cannady. “He knows the area better than anyone and he cares even more about them,” Simpson said. “Ed has become a very good friend throughout this process.”
Simpson’s rocky trip through the legislative process is like Cannady’s climb up the ridges and his fight with cancer, Cannady said.
“There’s almost always a way through,” he said, “and Mike keeps climbing and looking for the right path.”