Letters from the West

House panel plans Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill hearing Tuesday

A hearing is scheduled Tuesday on Republican Rep. Mike Simpson's bill to protect wilderness in the Boulder-White Clouds.

The House Natural Resources subcommittee on Federal Lands will conduct the hearing on Simpson's bill and five others at 8 a.m. MDT. Only officials from the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are expected to testify.

The Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act would prohibit development and mechanized use — including mountain bikes — on 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. Several other small land transfers are included in Custer and Blaine counties.

Custer County also would get access to $1 million already appropriated for general purposes in the county.

At a Senate hearing in May, Idaho Conservation League Director Rick Johnson, spoke in support of the bill on behalf of his group, the Wilderness Society and the Pew Charitable Trusts. He also expressed the support of the Idaho Cattle Association, the Idaho Farm Bureau, East Fork of the Salmon River ranchers, the Idaho Water Users, and the Idaho Recreation Council, which represents motorcyclists and snowmobilers.

Brett Stevenson, representing the Wood River Valley Bike Coalition and the International Mountain Bicycling Association, was the only voice in opposition who testified. She prefers the 591 million acre-alternative proposal for a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument, which would be proclaimed by President Obama, supporters hope, if Simpson's bill is unsuccessful.

Earlier this month a group of retired scientists wrote the administration saying they preferred the monument because it protects the larger landscape.

This week a sportsman's group sent administration officials at the White House, Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior smoked Idaho salmon with a letter urging Obama designate the monument if Simpson's bill does not pass by the end of June.

Michael Gibson, outreach coordinator for Sportsmen for Boulder-White Clouds, who delivered the salmon packages said he respects Simpson's long effort to preserve the area.

“Unfortunately, we can’t wait another decade, and Congress has proved time and again that they aren’t inclined to let the wilderness bill cross the finish line," Gibson said in a press release.