Letters from the West

U.S. Senate sets hearing for Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill for May 21

The bill to create new Central Idaho wilderness will get its first hearing in five years in the U.S. Senate.

Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch said the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining will hold a hearing on the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act on May 21 at 12:15 p.m. Mountain time. Republican Rep. Mike Simpson’s Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act is in the House of Representatives.

Idahoans are expected to testify, as will a witness from the Obama administration, Risch said.

“I am glad to announce that the Senate subcommittee of jurisdiction will hold a hearing on this bill that is so important to so many Idahoans,” said Risch. “Through a truly collaborative effort, Congressman Simpson has crafted this legislation that is truly an Idaho bill.”

The bill would prohibit development and designate wilderness covering 272,000 acres 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, and a transfer for local infrastructure near Clayton and one in Blaine County. Custer County also would get access to $1 million already appropriated for general purposes in the county.

Simpson said he expects the House Natural Resources subcommittee on public lands to told hold a hearing on the bill in June. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is considering protecting a larger part of Central Idaho as a national monument, but has given Simpson to time to see whether he can get his wilderness bill passed.

Risch, who killed Simpson’s bill in 2010, has jumped on board after Simpson left the motorized trails in the popular recreation area out of wilderness.

“I look forward to discussing it further with my colleagues on the Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining in the coming weeks,” Risch said in a news release.

Former staff members and colleagues of former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus sent a letter this week asking President Barack Obama to proclaim the area a national monument under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

“The time has come for you, Mr. President, to act and, using the same authority that President Theodore Roosevelt used to preserve the Grand Canyon a century ago, you can protect the Boulder-White Clouds in Idaho for future generations,” said the letter signed by 43 Democrats, Republicans and independents close to Andrus. He won his first campaign for governor in 1970 pledging to protect the White Cloud Mountains from a proposed mine.