Guest Opinions

Note to Perdue, Zinke: No need for politics in Idaho quest to preserve public lands

The Boulder-White Clouds area — parts of which were designated as wilderness in recent years — is an example of the mostly non-partisan collaboration among Idaho public lands stakeholders. This photo depicts Castle Peak in the White Cloud Mountains in Central Idaho.
The Boulder-White Clouds area — parts of which were designated as wilderness in recent years — is an example of the mostly non-partisan collaboration among Idaho public lands stakeholders. This photo depicts Castle Peak in the White Cloud Mountains in Central Idaho.

It’s great to see that the nation’s two top stewards of public lands are coming to Idaho. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue will be in Boise on Friday.

Public lands touch the lives of Idahoans every day. We have a lot of different interests in Idaho, and it’s remarkable how well we get along as we regularly meet to resolve conflicts and set a course, often partnering with our friends working for the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management.

Idaho is a conservative place, no secret to Zinke and Perdue. It’s tempting for outsiders, when talking about Idaho, to see only the conservative politics. That can lead to tiresome throwaway lines, bashing the government, missing how we do things here.

Idaho loves its public lands. We may love them in different ways, but Idaho folks get outside and treasure our open spaces. A recent public lands rally at the Idaho Statehouse brought nearly 3,000 people from all walks of life to the Capitol steps. This isn’t about conservative or liberal. This is about loving Idaho.

Idaho loves Craters of the Moon National Monument. The Trump administration is reviewing national monuments designated after 1996. While Craters was first designated in 1924, Craters is on the list because it was greatly expanded by President Bill Clinton. As Rep. Mike Simpson wrote in a letter to Zinke, we’re happy with our Craters of the Moon. We helped with the expansion and Simpson helped legislatively tune it up afterward.

Idaho is also good with common-sense management of public lands. All over Idaho there are highly functioning collaborative processes bringing diverse players to the table. Ranchers and loggers, hikers and hunters, motorized recreationists, and many others regularly meet across Idaho to help well-meaning friends working for agencies avoid conflicts and get things done.

Idaho is also good with added protections for public lands when Idaho helps chart the path. As governor, now-U.S. Sen Jim Risch helped create the Idaho Roadless Rule, which protects undeveloped tracts of our national forests. Now he’s involved in a conversation about wilderness protection for Scotchman Peaks in the Idaho Panhandle. U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo helped Idaho bring the Owyhee Initiative to Washington, D.C., helping permanently protect these important canyonlands and rivers. Rep. Mike Simpson helped pass the wilderness bill for the Boulder-White Clouds, the only measure of its kind to pass Congress in years.

So Secretaries Zinke and Perdue, welcome to Idaho. Welcome to a state that loves public land. Sure, we all have different ideas of how parts of it should be managed, but we’ve done a pretty good job of trying to figure that out, working together. Also, while in Boise, you’ll notice that the city is vibrant and growing. While we all recognize our rural neighbors are sometimes struggling, Idaho overall is doing pretty well, in part, because of our access to a great quality of life, brought to us by our public lands.

Rick Johnson is the executive director of the Idaho Conservation League.

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