Wildlands’ future debated by ICL
By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer
If there was one thing the 200 or so people gathered for
the Idaho Conservation League’s annual Wild Idaho! conference could
agree on, it was the words anonymously scratched into the dirt outside
Redfish Lake Lodge: "We love Earth. Yeah."
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, tells
members of the Idaho Conservation League, "Our differences are far
fewer than what our public reactions would have us believe." Simpson
promoted President Bush’s energy plan to the group Sunday at Redfish
Lake. Express photo by Travis Purser
To discuss the changing landscape of public lands,
experts, activists, students and supporters gathered Friday through Sunday
at the picturesque mountain lake, 55 miles north of Ketchum.
Each day was packed with slide shows and talks by
speakers, who included Josh Burnim, the Moscow conservationist who is
hiking from Redfish to British Columbia to promote the preservation of
wildlife migration areas. Gloria Flora, an ex-U.S. Forest Service
supervisor who said she was forced out of her job in Nevada by "fed
bashers," spoke at length on why change is the most important feature
But the conservation group’s conference was also about
having fun. Hikes, informal music jam sessions in the evenings and
fundraising auctions were part of the three-day agenda. Objects donated
for sale included manufactured items, but it was arguable that homemade
pieces, such as the "Pipe-Tailed Snake-Bird" sculpture made from
a small engine muffler, drew the most fervent bidding.
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, caused a stir when he promoted
President Bush’s energy policy to the group Sunday morning. It was the
third year in a row he addressed conference participants.
Simpson said Republicans and Democrats both want to
preserve the natural landscape ¾ they just disagree about how to do it.
"You can be a conservative, you can be a
conservationist, you can be a Republican, you can be a Mormon—all at the
same time," he said. "Kind of strange, but it’s true."
Simpson raised hackles when he said nuclear energy
provides the "biggest bang for the smallest impact to the
environment," because the power plants are small and don’t pollute
He said the United States should commit to building more
nuclear-powered plants—and will—even though safe disposal of
radioactive waste is still a problem. He said he has faith researchers
will solve the problem, just as those in the space program in the 1960s
committed to reaching the moon, and had faith they could do it even before
they knew how.
Simpson then literally tipped his hat to a man who yelled,
"They didn’t send a guy to the moon before they knew how to get him
As for hydropower production of electricity, he said
probably not many more dams would be built, and even a few would be
dismantled. The group applauded. But, he said, legislators would not make
those decisions based solely on public outcry about endangered salmon or
other problems associated with dams.
"Public opinion is a fickle thing to make public
policy on," he said. "You don’t make public policy based on
public opinion alone, [though] it is a factor."
Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael asked Simpson
about the status of proposed legislation that would turn the Boulder-White
Cloud Mountains into a designated wilderness area. The designation would
make illegal all mechanized transportation.
"It’s something [Congress has] been working
on," he said. "I can tell you, there’s not a lot of trust out
there. There’s a lot of [all-terrain-vehicle enthusiasts and ranchers]
saying [close] the Boulder-White Clouds today, something else tomorrow,
then we’re just gone."
The difference in point of view between Simpson and others
at the conference was also apparent in his comments linking the
environment and the economy.
"The biggest threat to the environment is a weak and
declining economy," he said, because, for example, when it comes down
to "people versus fish, fish are going to lose."
However, ex-forest supervisor Flora, speaking the day
before, said, "A thriving environment will give us a thriving
economy. A thriving economy will not necessarily give us a thriving
Flora, who resigned from the Forest Service in 1999 amid
what she described as widespread ill treatment of anyone who defended
federal environmental protection laws, has spent her time since then
promoting conservation. Members of the Idaho Conservation League, which
often has had an antagonistic relationship with the Forest Service,
consider Flora somewhat of a defector.
When people in the Forest Service "are trying to do
the right thing," she told the group, "it certainly is wonderful
having people out there trying to do the same thing."