Get back to work
Commentary by J. ROBB BRADY
J. Robb Brady is the former publisher
and a member of the
editorial board of the Post Register in Idaho Falls.
Give Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson
hurrahs for trying to reach an agreement on a Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness in
central Idaho. With their captivating necklace of lakes and 150 peaks higher
than 10,000 feet, the Boulder-White Clouds deserve the protection of wilderness
as much as any piece of land in the United States.
It almost happened 30 years ago when the
Sawtooth Wilderness was established. The idea was dropped at the last minute
because mining claims in the ranges could not be resolved.
But to achieve this elusive dream, Simpson
will have to set aside political distractions.
One of those distractions is the Idaho
Water Users Association's anger over a threatened suit by environmentalists to
secure Snake River water flows for migrating salmon. Salmon recovery has little
to do with Boulder-White Cloud wilderness talks. But Simpson has elected to
freeze all negotiations.
How long? Nobody knows.
The Idaho Republican congressman was well
along in separate discussions with conservationists, off-road vehicle leaders,
ranchers and Custer County officials. That list of conflicting interests tells
you that whenever Simpson resumes the talks, he and his staff will have a lot of
work ahead of them.
Here are some of the challenges facing
- Motorized access
trails should be open outside the wilderness? In 2001, motorcyclists and
snowmobiles represented only 6.1 percent of the usage in the area. So their
bargaining chip isn't as big as the motorized users would like to make it.
Motorized use creates constant conflicts with other users -- hikers, horse
riders, hunters and fishermen, as well as the extraordinary diversity of
wildlife in the region.
- Economic development
much federal assistance should Custer County receive? Initially, Simpson
proposed augmenting the county's small tax base with a gift of federal lands.
Reports put the amount in the range of 16,000 acres. Custer County could then
sell or develop the land.
Understandably, the idea is not making
headway. Giving away public lands—even in a good cause—sets a troubling
precedent. What's wrong with tapping federal monies already available for
economic development in struggling counties? Here's a simpler idea: Congress
appropriates money to Custer County as part of the wilderness prescription.
— What can be done
to help ranchers deal with the cutbacks of grazing allotments in the proposed
wilderness area? Conservation easement payments to those ranchers willing to
trade in or reduce their grazing allotments on the public range make sense.
— How big should the
proposed wilderness be? Simpson appeared headed for a 300,000-acre plan. The
Idaho Conservation League and the Boulder-White Clouds Council wanted some
500,000 acres protected. But a 250,000-acre Forest Service wilderness proposal
was shot down 15 years ago. So was a similar one pressed by then-Sen. James
McClure and then Gov. Cecil Andrus in the late 1980s.
Idaho is a special place because of places
like the Boulder-White Clouds. Granted, this is a tough job. But Simpson has
said he wants to do it. Here's hoping he resumes the negotiations soon.