The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will vote on an identical Senate version of the bill later this week, likely on Thursday.
The House of Representatives on Monday voted without opposition to approve Rep. Mike Simpson’s Boulder-White Clouds bill, which would designate 295,960 acres in three separate areas: the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness, the White Clouds Wilderness and the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness.
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, the Sierra Club and the Idaho Recreation Council, which represents motorcycle and snowmobile riders.
“Congressman Simpson’s leadership on protecting the Boulder-White Clouds is something sorely needed in Washington right now, and we commend his ability to move this bill cleanly through the process,” said Craig Gehrke, Idaho director with The Wilderness Society. “It’s now up to the U.S. Senate to demonstrate that it can finally resolve this decades-long debate.”
Wilderness areas prohibit use of motorized devices and 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 recently 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.
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. Risch has said he’s optimistic he can get it through the Senate.
It’s not exactly clear what its path could be in the Senate. It could become a part of a package of similar public land bills, which could delay final passage until the fall.
Rick Johnson, a bill supporter as executive director of the Idaho Conservation League, remains wary and still supports pushing for the Obama administration to designate a 500,000-acre national monument.
“We remain skeptical that the Senate will pass the bill,” Johnson said in a blog after the bill passed the House on Monday.
Simpson said he’s “extremely optimistic” the bill will become law.
Other parts of the bill would transfer four acres from the federal government to the city of Stanley for affordable housing for local workers. The bill conveys land 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.