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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday ó March 26, 2004

Commentary

Wilderness no
economic panacea

Guest opinion by JOHN THOMPSON


John Thompson is director of information
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 mechanized vehicles.

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 time.

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.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.





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