Congressman Mike Simpson on Tuesday
released a map of proposed wilderness boundaries for the White Cloud and Boulder
mountains north of Ketchum. The green shaded areas, bisected by motorized
corridors, constitute the proposed wilderness areas.
Boulder-White Cloud plan scrutinized
Stakeholders cautiously optimistic on
Simpsonís wilderness, recreation plan
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
Idaho Second District Congressman Mike
Simpsonís effort to designate wilderness in the Boulder and White Cloud
mountains received a lukewarm reception this week from outspoken residents of
To the green groups, Simpsonís Central
Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Proposal looks like a motorized
recreation package with wilderness zones thrown in to make it more palatable.
To the motorized groups, the proposal
looks like a wilderness bill sprinkled with a few permanent motorcycle and
mountain biking trails to try to stave off criticism.
But itís a lot more complicated than that.
Simpsonís 11-page "framework," released on Friday, June 18, includes federal
land trades to Custer County and the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation.
It includes implementation of three separate wilderness areas, congressional
funding for trail development and a voluntary grazing allotment buyout program.
It also establishes permanent motorized recreation opportunities for
motorcycles, ATVs and snowmobiles.
It closes some trails to motorized uses by
including them in the proposed wilderness areas.
"During the past year, we have met with
various groups that would be impacted by possible legislation, including Custer
Countyís past and present commissioners, ranchers, snowmobilers,
off-road-vehicle users, outfitters, conservationists and others," Simpson said.
"This framework represents our best efforts at finding a positive, reasonable
outcome for the management of the Boulder-White Clouds that benefits all users."
But in trying to please everyone, Simpson
might alienate everyone, skeptics said this week.
"It seems to be slanted pretty hard toward
the motorized users. Itís pretty much crafted to try to please everybody, and,
probably, it wonít please anybody," said Scott Stouder, western field
director for Trout Unlimited. "It could be a lot better. There are some good
things about it, but basically, itís real shy on roadless acreage."
Simpson agreed that the proposal wonít
make everyone happy.
"There is going to be some part of this
that everyone likes. Thereís going to be something everybody dislikes. Hence the
nature of a compromise," he said. "Everybodyís going to have to swallow in some
areas, for sure."
Members of various groups involved in the
process said they are cautiously optimistic that something good will come out of
the congressmanís efforts. Simpson first announced his intention to work on a
wilderness bill for the mountain ranges in 1999, though momentum did not pick up
until roughly a year ago.
"Thereís things we like, and there are
things weíre not so thrilled about," said Bill Dart, executive director of the
Blue Ribbon Coalition, a Pocatello-based motorized advocacy group. "I will give
Congressman Simpson credit for doing a better job than anyone Iíve seen with a
Perhaps an indication of the long road to
resolution in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains, some members of various
stakeholder groups have said the status quo would be better than Simpsonís plan.
"Whatís there would be preferable to this
proposal," Dart said.
Some of Dartís conservation-oriented
"Itís certainly not a wilderness bill.
Heís not calling it that anyway. Itís a motorized, multiple use bill, more than
anything," said Kaz Thea, a fisheries biologist and regional coordinator for the
NREPA Network, a conservation group dedicated to the Northern Rockies Ecosystem
Protection Act, which would designate wilderness throughout the Northern Rockies
with a single act of congress.
"Iíd like to see the bar raised and not
lowered," Thea said. "Every time we lower the bar, itís more difficult to get
the real wilderness that the Wilderness Act was written for."
Singer Carol King, a 13-year proponent of
NREPA and a part-time resident of the Salmon River canyon near Clayton, said
there is no reason to support a marginal wilderness bill like Simpsonís when
something like NREPA is picking up momentum.
"I am not happy with the framework," she
said. "I donít think itís a good bill at all. First of all, it makes huge,
irrevocable concessions, particularly to the motorized industry.
"I have had discussions with people who
love wilderness who think that Simpsonís bill is a way to get some wilderness,
and thatís why theyíre supporting it. I want to say to those people that once
they give away that land, itís gone. People who think they can go back and get
the land later are wrong. It never happens."
Thea, King and other conservationists are
critical of Simpsonís proposal to give U.S. Forest Service-owned land to Custer
County as part of an economic development package for the beleaguered rural
"This is really a bad idea, in my
opinion," said Jon Marvel, executive director of Hailey-based Western Watersheds
Project. "The Sawtooth National Recreation Area was created to prevent
subdivision in 1972, and that remains a very good reason for the SNRAís
continuing existence. This would totally undermine that."
Some, however, said Simpson is not
proposing to give enough land to Custer County.
"Originally, he was talking about 16,000
acres. I wanted more than that. Now itís down to 1,000 acres," said Custer
County Commissioner and Mackay resident Lin Hintze. "But overall, I think the
Simpson thing is a good deal. I really do. If the dollar signs are right for
Custer County, so that we can have some sort of payment to help the budget out
in the coming years, it might not be too bad."
But if federal land is to be doled out,
Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael said she wants a piece of the pie.
Michael said she is negotiating with federal land managers to see if Blaine
County might be able to receive some federal land to help accommodate its
affordable housing needs.
"I understand Custer Countyís economic
development needs, but Blaine County has affordable housing needs," she said.
Nonetheless, Michael said Simpsonís plan
might be a fair concession for wilderness advocates, though it appears a little
small and fragmented.
"In the political realities of getting a
wilderness bill through Congress, this sort of a compromise may be the only type
of wilderness we have in the future," she said. "The question is: Is some
wilderness better than none at all."
The Idaho Conservation League, the key
conservation organization pushing for wilderness in the two Central Idaho
mountain ranges, said it is reserving judgement and wants to know what its
members and the public at large think.
"Itís the first time weíve seen this whole
package," said Katheryn Goldman, an Idaho Conservation League conservation
assistant. "Simpson is to be congratulated for getting this framework out on the
table so everyone can have a serious discussion on the Boulder-White Clouds and
the future of wilderness there."
Goldman said, however, that her group was
surprised at some parts of the proposal.
"We knew there was going to be something
for everybody, but we didnít know where," she said. "So I guess the where was a
little bit of a surprise."
Among the most controversial aspects of
the proposal for Boulder White Clouds Council Executive Director Lynne Stone was
that a peninsula of road-free land between Pole Creek and Fourth of July Creek
would not be given wilderness designation. In fact, Simpson proposes to install
a new trail across the area and open a long-closed trail to motorized use.
"That kind of came like a bolt of
lightning from what was already a pretty dark cloud," Stone said. "We donít know
the impacts to mountain goats, lynx or other species that are back there. That
really needs to be scrutinized and fixed.
"If they open up that (Champion Creek)
loop, I would expect that the motorized use in the Sawtooth Valley would
increase 100 fold."
Though she observed several positive
aspects of the proposal, Stone was disappointed overall.
"Itís a rocks and ice wilderness
proposal," she said.