Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Let's not miss the forest by focusing only on trees

Guest opinion by Tom Pomeroy


By TOM POMEROY

Tom Pomeroy, of Ketchum, has been a Wood River Valley resident for more than 30 years. He is a longtime advocate for protection of wilderness in Idaho.

When retired Forest Service professionals raise a red flag, as 11 former Sawtooth National Recreation Area stewards have done, I take their opinion seriously. As far as it goes, their concern about the proposed Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA) is well taken. I, too, would vote against transferring 162 acres of federal lands to the city of Stanley for development—if that were the whole story.

If you read only their alarm—limited to this one topic—you might ask, as friends ask me: "Tom, how can you possibly support what Congressman Mike Simpson is proposing to do?"

But count me as enthusiastically for CIEDRA and protecting wilderness in Idaho.

CIEDRA is not just about 162 acres. It addresses hundreds of thousands of acres—far beyond the SNRA lands these foresters know well.

Unfortunately, they fail to acknowledge the bigger picture.

First, the 1972 SNRA law was not a finished job. It promised a next step by which we were soon to have congressional protection for a Boulder-White Clouds wilderness. That was half a lifetime ago! Absent enough pushing by all of us—the Forest Service included—that theoretical new wilderness never was protected.

Those of us who have lived here for decades have watched motorized recreation (which is all well and good in its place) push ever deeper into the hushed sanctuaries of the Boulder-White Clouds, drowning out the wild music. Solitude is disappearing in the Boulder-White Clouds, so we must act!

What about the East Fork of the Salmon River? Before I will agree that a handful of acres on the river in Stanley are top priority for salmon protection, I have to think of the tens of thousands of acres in the East

Fork where decades of ill-managed grazing have severely degraded miles of critical fish habitat.

Simpson has a real solution to that much bigger problem. After consulting with many interests, this conservative politician (whose views on many issues are far from my own) proposes a Jerry Peak Wilderness of some 140,000 acres in the East Fork drainage. CIEDRA promises the area can be cow-free wilderness with financial fairness for each rancher. This is hugely

important for wildlife. CIEDRA will also designate a new wilderness area in the Boulder-White Clouds portion of the NRA.

Do I want this wilderness to be bigger? Yes, particularly in the North Fork of the Big Wood River. This doorstep to Ketchum/Sun Valley is awe-inspiring and is logical to be protected. But do I reject all the good in CIEDRA because it is not perfect by my standards? No. Instead, I work with Simpson to try to make it better—but to see it enacted into law.

In all, CIEDRA protects 300,011 acres in new wilderness areas. That's 300,011 acres of lush meadows, clear streams and wildlife habitat—something to be proud of forever! Something the future will thank us for having the wisdom to act upon now.

No one element in this complex, delicately balanced plan is perfect. Many of us are troubled by those 162 acres in Stanley. But why can't we look beyond our particular narrow problems with CIEDRA, to add up what we all gain? This is a compromise, to be sure, but an honorable one. While perfectly pleasing no group, CIEDRA is greater than the sum of its parts—for all of us and for future generations. For me, this is the vital next step in protecting the wild wonders of Central Idaho.

Let's not let this best-ever opportunity for protecting the Boulder-White Clouds slip through our fingers.




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