Letters from the West

Senate committee sends Simpson wilderness bill to the floor

The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted Thursday to send Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson's Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill to the Senate floor.

The committee approved the bill, part of a package of bills, by unanimous consent. The fate of the bill remains unclear.

The House of Representatives Monday voted for the bill, which would designate 275,665 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.

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.