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Wednesday, July 7, 2004


Simpson plans to tweak wilderness plan

Legislation to be released later this summer

Express Staff Writer

Using comments gleaned from three public meetings in Central Idaho last week, Rep. Mike Simpson is going to tweak his wilderness blueprint and economic development package for the Boulder and White Cloud mountains and surrounding regions and post proposed legislation on his Internet site by the end of July.

Rep. Mike Simpson

In the meantime, the Idaho Second Congressional District Republican said he will continue to accept written comments on his Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act "framework." His first draft proposes 294,000 acres of congressionally designated wilderness, as well as land trades, motorized trail development and the release of some 300,000 acres of wilderness study areas.

When the proposed legislation resurfaces later this month or early in August, the congressman said he would decide whether to hold another round of public hearings before introducing the plan to his colleagues in the form of a congressional bill.

It depends on the feedback he gets when the more formal document surfaces, he said.

On Thursday and Friday, Simpson hosted town hall meetings in Ketchum, Stanley and Challis. Each meeting attracted interests of a different stripe, but Simpson acknowledged that "there were some very interesting things said" at each of the three meetings.

Generally, those who commented in Ketchum were critical of Simpsonís framework for failing to include mountainous regions they hold dear. They also were skeptical about the proposed role for the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation in managing or assuming ownership of portions of the two Central Idaho mountain ranges.

Congressman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, issues closing comments to a full house of diverse interests in Stanley on Friday afternoon. Simpson hosted three town-hall meetings in Central Idaho last week to collect public opinions on his Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act proposal. Express photo by David N. Seelig

Again, generally, those who commented in Stanley said wilderness designation would compromise their enjoyment of areas to which they have enjoyed motorized and mechanized access. They questioned the U.S. Forest Serviceís ability to maintain trails in remote areas without use of modern, motorized and mechanized tools.

In Challis, a number of Custer County residents said they are willing to accept more wilderness in lieu of proposed land trades to their county. Some said, however, they wanted assurances that a wilderness designation in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains would be the last they would have to endure.

Ketchumís was the most one-sided public hearing. All but a small handful of those who commented were strong wilderness proponents. The public hearing in Challis garnered the most positive reviews of the framework, Simpson observed.

But Simpson also said he believes the most strongly opinionated people usually speak at public hearings. He said he expects more middle-of-the-road comments from those who weigh in using their pens.

"When people look at something thatís compromising, the first thing is to look at the things you donít like," he said.

The more positive attributes will get more attention as people look at the plan longer, he said.

The most consistent thread through the three meetings was Simpsonís own lecture on the nature of compromise.

"There are different points of view. You have to try to understand their perspective," he said. "Ask yourself: Is there a way we can fashion an Idaho solution?"

For Stanley rancher Jay Neider, that might be difficult.

"Since the Sawtooth National Recreation Areaís come in, they havenít done much except harass us," he said. "Theyíve run out virtually all the mines. Theyíve run out virtually all the logging Ö I call it the Forest Circus, because they donít know what way theyíre going half the time."

Cheryl Hymas, a local horseback rider, said the Sawtooth Valley works as it is. There are wilderness opportunities in the Sawtooth Mountains and multiple use opportunities in the White Cloud Mountains.

"This is the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, not the Sawtooth National Wilderness Area," she said.

But Hymas said she could see it both ways.

"I donít want to see my precious Castle Peak desecrated any more than the next guy," she said. "But weíve got to share this. I want everybody to love it like I have."

The Stanley and Challis meetings certainly drew a mixed bag of comments, however.

Tom Steward, a 27-year Stanley business owner said wilderness protection has been good for business in Idaho.

He called Simpsonís plan a "great first step."

In Challis, those who spoke were in two distinct camps. Those for wilderness and those against it. Former Custer County Commissioner and East Fork of the Salmon River valley rancher Melodie Baker said her county can not survive on recreation alone.

"It never has. It never will," she said. "We need multiple use."

Carolyn Smith, a Mackay rancher, said something has to be done to stop wilderness.

"If we do do it, can we put something in there to stop the wilderness cancer from taking up all the land?" she asked.

Allen Getty, a member of a Custer County economic stabilization committee, placed his countyís woes on the shoulders of federal politicians.

"Look at our main street. Itís dead, and itís all thanks to our congress and our government," he said.

But singer Carole King, also a 27-year Custer County resident, asked her neighbors to "dare to dream."

"We need to dream. We need to vision and imagine things outside the traditional," she said. "We need something to disturb the economy, but weíre all afraid to grow."


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