Letters from the West

Two Blaine, Custer County Commissioners join in support for wilderness bill

(Correction: earlier versions of this blog incorrectly stated who supported Simpson’s bill.)

Two central Idaho commissioners, divided by mountains, culture and economies came together to support a bill to protect wilderness in the Boulder-White Clouds.

Larry Schoen of Blaine County and Wayne Butts of Custer County expressed their support for Rep. Mike Simpson’s latest bill to protect the scenic mountain range that lies in both counties. The bill, called SNRA Plus, would protect 272,000 acres of wilderness, where no development is allowed, in three areas — Hemingway, White Clouds and Jim A. McClure-Jerry Peak.

In addition the bill would allow a transfer of four acres of land from the federal government to the city of Stanley for affordable housing for local workers, another transfer for local infrastructure near Clayton and one in Blaine County. Custer County also would get access to $1 million already appropriated.

The bill gained new support this year when Simpson made changes that kept motorized trails intact and with a proclamation looming to protect up to 700,000 acres of the mountains and East Fork of the Salmon River watershed as a national monument by the Obama administration. Blaine County had already endorsed the national monument and Custer had opposed it.

Blaine, the home of Sun Valley, has a thriving year-round recreation and second-home economy, strengthened by a diverse set of technology and recreation manufacturing businesses. Custer, which is 97 percent public land, depends on mining, ranching and federal payments like Social Security for most of its income, which is far less than Blaine’s.

Schoen and Butts organized joint meetings in each county in an effort to better understand each other. Together they called on the administration to meet with local people before making any decision.

In the April 13 letter signed by Schoen and Butts, went a step further.

“Based on a broad range of public sentiment pro and con, we believe a legislative solution to conservation protection for the region is preferable to a Presidential national monument designation, for many reasons,” stated the letter. “We think that is likely if SNRA Plus fails.”

The commissioners ended with what could be a guiding statement for all.

“While Blaine County and Custer County are perceived not to agree on much, we recognize some common interests,” they wrote. “When we Commissioners can stand together or work together in the public interest, we should. “