When I was growing up, my family and I would spend part of each summer on our ranch near Stanley, bordering what is now part of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. There I enjoyed horseback riding, hiking, shooting, fishing, riding motorcycles and observing the area’s wildlife.
Anyone who has been to this region of Idaho can attest to its wild character and unparalleled beauty. For my parents, being in this place and enjoying its natural splendor was a reprieve from the bustle of Washington, D.C. They knew the value of this land and what it meant to the people of Idaho. That’s why they both spent so much of their professional careers working to preserve this area and others like it.
In 1968 I went on a backpacking trip with my father through the Boulder-White Clouds. At the time he was doing research on the proposed molybdenum mine that, if approved, would have seriously impacted the area. I was only 11 years old so my attention wasn’t particularly focused on land management and natural resource policy. I was more excited about catching trout, drinking clean water from streams and looking up at the stars in the night sky. As I grew older, I came to understand the political struggle that transpired during and after this period that saved this area from being irreparably changed.
This story is one that many people know and, in my opinion, it helped to change the conversation about land stewardship and conservation in our state. For years leading up to this, the mining and timber industries exerted a great deal of political power and were very successful at thwarting attempts to protect areas of Idaho from large-scale natural resource extraction. These industries created jobs and brought economic development to many communities, so there was generally popular support for these projects. But when one company sought to decimate one of our state’s most pristine and iconic regions with an open-pit molybdenum mine, the people of Idaho made it clear that they would not stand for the exploitation of that special place. They made it clear that the value of our land resides not only in its mineral deposits, but in its rivers, mountains, valleys and wildlife.
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People like Gov. Cecil Andrus, Sen.Jim McClure, Congressman Orval Hansen and my father helped to grant the area temporary protection from development, and we can see the wisdom of that effort born out. Today, the Boulder-White Clouds are a destination for hunters, anglers, hikers, mountain bikers, ATV riders and hikers. The draw of tourism to this region helps to sustain the local economies that cater to these visitors — replacing an economy reliant on wholesale natural exploitation to one reliant on the opportunities available to those who find solace or excitement in the primitiveness of our most special places.
Both of my parents cared very deeply about Idaho’s land and people. The legacy they left can be found in the special places they worked so hard to protect, and their ethos of preservation and responsible stewardship continue to have great meaning today. Securing lasting protection for the Boulder-White Clouds was one of my mother’s final wishes. We now have an opportunity to accomplish this through designating this area as a national monument. I encourage all Idahoans who care about our natural places to show their support for this effort and finish the work my parents started.
Chase Church is the son of former Idaho Sen. Frank Church and Bethine Church. He received a bachelor’s in communication/journalism in 1999 from Boise State University. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Pamela.