The gravest threat facing the Boulder and White Clouds mountains is the creation of a national monument.
I know that’s counter-intuitive. And if you’re like my neighbor, you’ll find it hard to believe. “You know me — I’m all for conservation,” he said when we talked about the proposal to make the Boulder and White Cloud mountains a national monument. He assumed national monuments always bring better protection.
But the irony is a national monument will degrade the peace, solitude and fragile alpine ecosystem of the Boulder-White Clouds, while providing the mountains no improved protection.
The Boulder and White Cloud mountains have enjoyed 43 years of national monument-level protection under the federal Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA) law. A national monument would simply duplicate existing protective restrictions, goals and planning processes.
Read the laws and see for yourself. Compare the SNRA law (Public Law 92-400) to national monument proclamations. You’ll be surprised how SNRA law and national monument proclamations mirror each other and provide equivalent legal protections. I certainly was.
What a national monument will do is destroy a vital protection unique to the Boulder-White Clouds: obscurity.
Travel to national parks and monuments across the West and it doesn’t take long to realize that what has kept this area so special for so long, and why its mountain experiences are so real and so personal, is precisely because it’s not a park or monument.
Not only are the Boulder-White Clouds uncrowded and not burdened by commercial hype, but people discover the mountains on their own terms and develop a relationship based on their own experiences rather than being served up prepackaged, predefined encounters.
A national monument will turn the Boulder-White Clouds into a national spectacle, luring people to crowd its trails and lakes, and it will hand the mountains over to the extremely effective national park/national monument marketing machine.
Impacts won’t be limited to the Boulder-White Clouds. What will an influx of new visitors enticed by a national monument mean to the irresistible lakes and high country of the Sawtooth Mountains? Or to character and pace of communities along the upper Salmon River? Not much good.
Supporters try to deflect critiques by saying their proposal includes land outside the already-protected Boulder and White Cloud mountains, and they offer unimpeachable platitudes about salmon, water and wildlife. But they’ve yet to identify specific solutions to obstacles facing these resources or explain how a monument will remedy things — or if desired actions are even possible under a monument.
Instead, they continue on with a campaign that claims the Boulder-White Clouds are the “largest unprotected roadless area in the lower 48 states.” It’s a compelling pitch. But with the mountains receiving national monument-level protection under the SNRA, it’s also completely untrue.
Proponents call the 43-year-old federal SNRA law “temporary” and say a “permanent” national monument solution is needed. Not true. The SNRA law and a national monument proclamation are no more or less permanent than any other federal law — say, the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
What’s true is a national monument will be a clarion call to the world and it will obliterate the quiet protection that’s critical to preserving the Boulder and White Cloud mountains.
John Kelley is a former legislative policy analyst and the creator of www.bwcnm.org, a website that examines the Boulder-White Clouds national monument proposal. He lives in Sun Valley.