Statesman Editorial: Hope and momentum for the Boulder-White Clouds

It was encouraging recently to see a growing list of people and organizations lining up to support Rep. Mike Simpson’s latest — and likely last — attempt to pass legislation to protect the iconic Boulder-White Clouds region in Central Idaho.

We applaud these developments and couldn’t be happier to witness new momentum for Simpson and his bill to establish The Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act, which would prohibit development and designate wilderness covering 272,000 acres in three areas: Hemingway, White Clouds and Jim A. McClure-Jerry Peak.

Though we recognize the original CIEDRA (Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act) has undergone some significant changes, and has been shaped and reshaped by compromise, we have long advocated for additional protections for its pristine charms, because it belongs not only to the present generation, but also to posterity. We must do our part to preserve and protect it — and that means supporting Simpson and now the spectrum of dozens of organizations who collaborate.

During a Senate hearing last week on S 583 — the Senate version of the identical bill Simpson introduced in the House in February — we witnessed the kind of alignment necessary in these times when we heard Rick Johnson of the Idaho Conservation League and Sen. Jim Risch speak from the same side.

Risch, who opposed earlier iterations of the bill but who has been a key partner this time, acknowledged the work of Simpson and other collaborators, and praised this Idaho landscape as “one of the most remarkable places. ... You could travel all over the world but you would always remember your trip to the Boulder-White Clouds.”

Johnson has always known this, and that is why he has high but realistic hopes for this “Idaho solution” to preserving the region.

“We as conservationists have given up more than we ever thought we would have to, but we are gaining more support than we had ever dreamed,” he said.

One potential supporter is Rep. Raul Labrador, Simpson’s House colleague and a member of the key Natural Resources Committee that will consider the bill. Through a staff member, Labrador said he is not ready to get behind it and is still studying it.

We urge Labrador to support this state solution as it travels its circuitous route through Congress over the summer, because he and everybody else involved knows that perhaps the most powerful stakeholder of all is the prospect — or threat, depending on your view — of turning an even larger Boulder-White Clouds tract into a national monument.

What would it say to an Obama administration waiting to launch a monument drive if Simpson’s bill stalls or can’t even capture the votes of his own Idaho congressional delegation?

That’s a scenario that never has to happen, but history shows it can. Johnson, Simpson and others have met this disappointment over the Boulder-White Clouds time and again.

It’s time for Idaho to seize the day, seize the momentum and push through for this “most remarkable place.”

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