Thanks to Chase Church for reminding us (in a July 12 Guest Opinion) that the Sawtooth National Recreation Area was created through the cooperative effort of his father, Sen. Frank Church; then-Congressman Jim McClure (who was later a U.S. senator); and me. No mention was made, however, of the indispensable part played by senator and former Idaho Gov. Len Jordan.
I introduced the bill in the House that was signed into law by the president to create the SNRA. Most of the credit for its passage, however, belongs to Sens. Church and Jordan, who worked together to win overwhelming Senate support for the bill, and to my House colleague McClure, a gifted legislator, who joined as a co-sponsor of my bill and persuaded Wayne Aspinall, chairman of the House Interior Committee, to schedule it for hearings and debate.
Just before the bill came to the House floor for debate, editorial and other prominent voices in Idaho called for its defeat.
They wanted the bill to be sent back to committee and amended to extinguish mining claims in the Sawtooths immediately rather than over a period of five years. Aspinall, of Colorado, who had worked to reach the compromise on this issue, ignored the complaint.
He opened the debate by praising the Sawtooth bill as one of the finest ever brought to the House by his committee. The bill passed the House by a large margin and went to the Senate. Sens. Church and Jordan added an amendment providing for the immediate elimination of mining claims. The House agreed to the change and the bill as amended was signed into law.
Aspinall had never lost a bill in the House. If the Sawtooth bill had been defeated and returned to the committee, as the Idaho critics advocated, it would be dead. Uncontrolled commercial and residential development in the Sawtooth Valley would have accelerated. The cost to acquire these rights to protect the scenic values of the valley would become prohibitive.
The passage of the SNRA bill is one of the finest examples of what elected officials can accomplish when they put their egos aside and work together across party lines for the common good.
Orval Hansen, former U.S. representative for the 2nd District of Idaho, lives in Boise.
Note: Last week Congress passed — and President Barack Obama signed into law — a bill that brings further protection to the region. It was sponsored by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and supported by Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho.