Guest opinion by JOHN
John Thompson is director of
for the Idaho Farm Bureau.
A group of Wood River Valley
business owners recently organized a letter writing campaign in support
of the opinion that designating more wildernesses will bring more
commerce to central Idaho.
Instead of applying a measure of
critical thinking to this idea, these business owners penned letters to
several newspapers seeking support for the notion that locking up more
public land will somehow attract more people. Following are a few simple
points that seem to fly in the face of this logic.
First, the Frank Church River of
No Return Wilderness, the second largest wilderness area in the lower 48
at 2.3 million acres, is easily accessed from Sun Valley. Idaho also has
the third largest wilderness area in the lower 48, the Selway-Bitteroot
at 1.3 million acres. With more wilderness than all but three other
states in the lower 48, itís difficult to imagine how adding another
500,000 acres of wilderness in the Boulder White Clouds Mountains will
somehow attract more deep-pocket shoppers to Sun Valley.
Second, there are thousands more
acres in central Idaho that are currently being studied for wilderness
values. Although they donít have official designation, these Wilderness
Study Areas are managed the same Ď where man is only a visitor with
restrictions on grazing, mining, timber cutting and the use of
Forest Service data shows that
less than 3 percent of people who recreate on National Forest land use
wilderness areas. Most people who use wilderness areas to recreate spend
less than a day there.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that
most of the tourists who travel through the Wood River Valley looking
for an outdoor experience are families and retired couples. Many of
these folks have disposable income to spend on hotels, meals and
shopping. While many of them may go for a hike, most arenít interested
in roughing it through a wilderness area for any extended period of
Rather than lobbying for more
restrictions on public lands, business owners in the area might consider
strategies that cater more to families and retirees rather than the vans
full of college students who want to hike through a wilderness area,
sleep on the ground, eat Ramen noodles and climb rocks for a week.
There is no evidence to suggest
that more people will travel here for the sole purpose of spending time
in a wilderness area. If there was some evidence to suggest that our
existing wilderness areas are helping generate more commerce than other
public lands there might be an argument here. However, chances are good
that average run-of-the-mill National Forest or BLM land that supports
grazing, timber harvest and mining, hunting, fishing and various forms
of motorized recreation, helps generate more commerce than wilderness
areas ever will.
Central Idaho is a spectacular
place to visit. A wilderness designation wonít make it better.