Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: Scientist group argues for national monument status

Much has been said on the political context of the Boulder-White Clouds, but recently, a group of 19 retired biologists and resource managers, including me, felt compelled to look at the issue through the dispassionate lens of science.

Much of the debate over the possibility of a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument has questioned whether the area is truly threatened, and whether it really needs more protection than the Sawtooth National Recreation Area offers. There’s also fear that, in the name of protecting the fish and wildlife that make the Boulder-White Clouds so special, we would close the area to the very Idahoans who know and love the place best, those who have the most experience with the hunting and fishing resources that currently abound there.

After careful review of the facts, my colleagues and I sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that should dispel any lingering doubts about whether a monument is the right choice for the Boulder-White Clouds. The signers of this letter point out that the SNRA was an excellent first step, but it does not encompass many of the lands and waters most critical to these populations, such as the East Fork Salmon Watershed or its major tributary, Herd Creek. The letter also points out that the threatened areas include Salmon spawning grounds that are among the highest, coldest and farthest inland of anywhere in the world – which produce world-class salmon fishing in other parts of the state.

Our group notes that a monument would allow better management of noxious weeds that threaten the vegetation on which many of the area’s big game and other wildlife rely. Also, a new study from NOAA scientists called “Cold-Water Climate Shield” indicates that due to warming in streams across North America, in just a few decades, waters in the Boulder-White Clouds will be among the few remaining in the West to sustain threatened bull trout and cutthroat trout. It’s clear, then, that while the SNRA was an excellent first step to preserving these resources, it was only a first step.

As to the fears that the Idahoans who currently enjoy the hunting, fishing and recreation opportunities in the Boulder-White Clouds might be “shut out,” the letter points out that other Western monuments of this scale created under the current administration protect hunting and fishing access in those areas, as well as the state Fish and Game’s primacy over fish and wildlife management. In short, a monument is meant to preserve the hunting, fishing and recreation we already enjoy against very real dangers such as new mines, new developments, and irresponsible motorized use that threaten existing access and resources.

Those of us with backgrounds in biology and resource management came together to pen this letter, to assert, based on the scientific evidence that’s available, that a monument is now the best and most realistic choice to protect the Gem State’s crown jewel. Congressional gridlock has stalled Rep. Mike Simpson’s efforts for more than a decade. We can’t afford to lose more time waiting for Congress to act – after all, ecosystems don’t generally operate on political time lines, and the clock is ticking on protecting the unique flora and fauna of the Boulder-White Clouds from numerous looming threats.

Roy Heberger retired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where he served most recently as assistant field supervisor, Snake River Basin Field Office.