Republican Rep. Mike Simpson’s bill to protect three areas in Central Idaho as wilderness was sent to the full House Thursday without objection from the House Natural Resources Committee.
The bill would designate 275,665 acres in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains and the Jerry Peak as wilderness.
“For more than a decade, Idahoans of all walks of life have worked tirelessly on this legislation,” Simpson said. “It is because of their dedication that we are one step closer to achieving our goal — creating an Idaho solution for managing the Boulder White Clouds.”
The bill has the support of a diverse list of groups, including the Sawtooth Society, the Custer County Commission, East Fork of the Salmon River Ranchers, the Idaho Farm Bureau, the Idaho Cattle Association, Idaho Outfitters and Guides, the Pew Charitable Trust, the Idaho Conservation League, the Wilderness Society and the Idaho Recreation Council, which represents motorcycle and snowmobile riders. On Thursday, the Sierra Club threw its support behind the bill.
Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador is a member of the committee. At a hearing in June, he expressed skepticism about the bill, saying that motorized and agriculture groups were supporting it only because of the threat that President Barack Obama might proclaim a much larger area as a national monument. On Thursday, however, he allowed the bill to advance without objection. He has not said whether he will support the bill.
The bill likely will go to the floor as a “suspension” bill, which allows passage on a voice vote. But Simpson’s staff could not predict the timing of the House vote.
Wilderness areas prohibit use of motorized devices, including bicycles. The main groups still opposed to the bill are mountain bikers who want two alpine trails they use — Ants Basin and Castle Divide — left open. They were in the White Clouds this week to rally support for the larger national monument. And other groups say they prefer a 500,000-acre national monument that would have less strict protections but protect the entire East Fork of the Salmon River watershed.
Republican Idaho Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo have expressed support for the bill, which has had a hearing in a Senate committee, but not a vote.
“The markup of Congressman Simpson’s Boulder-White Clouds wilderness legislation shows his commitment to protecting this deserving landscape and his ability to move legislation,” said Craig Gehrke, Idaho Director with The Wilderness Society. “We’re looking for similar ‘shoulder to the wheel’ efforts in the Senate to better gauge whether or not Congress can ultimately get this job done.”
Other parts of the bill would transfer four acres from the federal government to the city of Stanley for affordable housing for local workers. Other parcels of land will be conveyed to Custer and Blaine counties and rural communities for public purposes such as cemeteries, water towers and waste-transfer sites. Ranchers, facing reductions in grazing, would be allowed to retire grazing allotments in exchange for money from a third party. Grants to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area will pay for trail maintenance and improvements; primitive wheelchair access to two existing trails; and acquiring land to build a bike and snowmobile access trail between Redfish Lake and Stanley. Custer County would get $1 million already authorized upon passage of the bill.