Letters from the West

Mike Simpson’s Boulder-White Clouds bill has broad support, but is delicately balanced

The fate of Rep. Mike Simpson’s 15-year quest to get a legislative resolution to the Boulder-White Clouds wilderness debate lies with the House Natural Resources Committee and its chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.

Bishop and other committee members have said they want wilderness bills that come out of the committee to have an amendment that prevents future national monument designations in those respective areas. If they invoke this national issue over the power of the presidency, then Simpson and Sen. Jim Risch say the Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill is dead and a monument designation by President Barack Obama likely.

Federal Lands Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock, R-Calif., grilled Forest Service Deputy Chief Leslie Weldon at a hearing this week, asking if any language in the wilderness bill would prevent Obama or future presidents from proclaiming a national monument if Simpson’s bill passes. Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador asked Weldon the same question after Simpson had left the wilderness bill hearing for an Appropriations Committee hearing.

“I guess, technically speaking, the answer would be no,” Weldon answered.

Simpson has been clear from the beginning of this latest effort to get a Boulder-White Clouds wilderness that a no-monument amendment like Bishop has proposed for Utah wilderness bills would kill the bill he has negotiated with diverse parties in Idaho. Bishop allowed the hearing on Simpson’s wilderness bill and afterward told a reporter for Environment and Energy Daily he was going to allow the bill to go to a vote.

“Tell Mike, be patient,” he told E&E Daily. “It’s going to happen.”

Labrador is the only member of the Idaho congressional delegation who has not said whether he will support the bill or whether he would try to stop it by pushing the no-monument amendment. He has sponsored separate legislation that would give states veto power over a president proclaiming a national monument.

So has Republican Sen. Jim Risch, now a strong supporter of Simpson’s bill. Risch said he agrees with Simpson that tacking on an anti-monument amendment — a legislative “poison pill” that no president would sign into law — would kill the bill.

“I think the balance on this bill is so delicate,” Risch said.

Labrador has not decided what he’ll do, his spokesman said Tuesday. But his tough questions and assertion that the bill’s support is based solely on anti-monument concerns had some worrying he might push the bill-killing amendment.

“The congressman will continue to review the bill as it moves through the process,” said his press secretary, Dan Popkey.

But Sandra Mitchell, director of the Idaho Recreation Council, which represents motorized recreationists, said she doesn’t think Labrador’s comments mean he will try to kill the bill. Even though she is staunchly anti-wilderness, she’s fighting hard for its passage because she fears the uncertainty of a monument designation.

Simpson’s bill would be good for the motorcyclists and snowmobilers she represents, she said, even if a monument was not hanging over their heads.

“This is the best wilderness bill I’ve ever seen,” Mitchell said, “except for the wilderness provisions.”

The bill would designate 275,665 acres in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains and the Jerry Peak area of Central Idaho as wilderness. If approved unamended by the House committee, it would go to the full House for a vote and, if approved, sent to the Senate. An identical bill sponsored by Risch has already had a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Risch said he’s confident he can get the bill through the Senate, but time is the challenge. Don’t look for it to make it through the meat-grinder earlier than September or October.