This month President Barack Obama signed into law the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act (SNRA+), giving permanent wilderness designation to the Boulder-White Cloud mountains and Jerry Peak areas.
SNRA+ caps more than 40 years of work and most recently a decade-long campaign to provide greater protection for this magnificent area; an effort many observers doubted could ever succeed. Passage of SNRA+ demonstrates how much we can achieve working toward a common goal.
Most of the credit for this success goes to Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and their highly capable staff members. With exemplary patience and diligence, they gathered input from a wide range of interested Idahoans and carefully crafted a bill that virtually all groups could support. They skillfully and with great resolve shepherded the bill through Congress in near record time without a single “nay” vote.
Recent efforts to ask the president to proclaim a national monument undoubtedly contributed to the broad support for SNRA+ among groups fearful of the uncertain consequences of such a step. The decision early this year by some key national monument proponents (such as the Idaho Conservation League and The Wilderness Society) to refocus their primary support on enacting SNRA+ was certainly timely and helpful.
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Those who publicly pointed out the many problems that would result from a national monument in this area and urged continued focus on securing congressional wilderness designation, such as the Sawtooth Society, played a key role by shifting momentum away from the controversial national monument approach to the more effective and predictable wilderness path. An official in the administration told Sawtooth Society Executive Director Gary O’Malley, as he was being invited to the signing ceremony for SNRA+, “Were it not for the substantial efforts of the society in highlighting and credibly explaining the serious problems with a national monument for this area and promoting the wilderness route, this would not be designated as wilderness today.”
In short, by coming together, with each conservation advocacy group playing its role while working toward a common goal, we accomplished what many thought was unachievable.
But even as we celebrate this victory, this is really just the beginning. Without on-the-ground work to manage and protect the wilderness we’ve achieved and the broader Sawtooth NRA, it will all be for naught. With the largest volunteer program in Sawtooth NRA history already in place and over $650,000 invested in Sawtooth NRA recreational facilities and services (and more volunteers and investments each year), the Sawtooth Society invites everyone who helped achieve this victory to become a champion for the area and join us in the job of preserving, protecting and enhancing this special place for generations to come. Together we can do it.
CORRECTION: A Statesman error inadvertently associated Gary O’Malley with the wrong organization in an earlier version of this column.
Wayne Hughes is the president of the Sawtooth Society and lives in Stanley.