A bill to protect portions of the Boulder-White Clouds as wilderness was introduced in both the House and the Senate Thursday by U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson and Sen. Jim Risch, both Idaho Republicans.
The bill would protect 275,665 acres in three separate wilderness areas that leaves all of the existing motorized trails open, includes small land transfers that help Custer County and the city of Stanley and access to funding for the county already approved by Congress. It is an alternative to a national monument designation pushed by Idaho conservation, sportsmen and outdoor business groups and under study by the Obama administration.
An Obama administration official acknowledged last week that the White House gave Simpson six months to try to pass the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, which he has already tried to get through Congress for 13 years. In 2010, Risch was the stumbling block as motorized groups complained about the closing of several routes through the area that includes both land in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
The changes in the new bill have motorized groups appeased, but many preservationists and mountain bikers have thrown their support behind the national monument championed by former Gov. Cecil Andrus.
Simpson took out several thousand acres of wilderness proposed that snowmobilers used on the east side of the Boulder Mountains in exchange for extra land in the Wood River Valley. A large swath used by the Sun Valley Heli-skiing outfitter also was taken out, including areas where the helicopters land.
The final version put back into wilderness a trail in Murdock Creek behind the SNRA headquarters that provides access to the wilderness for people in wheelchairs.
The next step for the bill in both chambers is to get committee hearings.