Friday, July 15, 2005

Idaho can do better than CIEDRA

Guest opinion by Ric Bailey

Ric Bailey lives in Joseph, Ore., and works as a river guide in Hells Canyon and on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

Clear-running trout streams, bold mountain vistas, wide open spaces and the best outdoor recreation anywhere in America: That's the Idaho we love and none of us want it to change.

In 1964, America passed a law that established the National Wilderness Preservation System to ensure that such irreplaceable beauty and bounty are never lost. And Idaho has more undeveloped federal land that qualifies for inclusion in the wilderness system than any other state outside Alaska.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, has introduced the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA), which would add 300,000 acres in the spectacular Boulder-White Cloud Mountains to the wilderness system. At first glance, his proposal appears to build upon the legacy of the late Sen. Frank Church and former Gov. Cecil Andrus, who championed the inclusion of Idaho icons like the River of No Return, Hells Canyon and the Sawtooths to the wilderness system.

Why then, are so many conservation leaders in Idaho and across America opposing Simpson's bill? People who have advocated for the protection of our wild places recognize that untrammeled landscapes make up only a small fraction of our land base and, of course, we can't manufacture more of them. The prospect of sacrificing some in order to protect others is contradictory.

But that's exactly what CIEDRA does. While recent discussions have highlighted the controversy over a giveaway of federal land near Stanley for development, that's only the tip of the iceberg. Here's a sampling of CIEDRA's other giveaways:

· A huge portion of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area would be subjugated under a new designation, the "Boulder-White Cloud Management Area," which prioritizes motorized recreation over resource protection.

· More than 200,000 acres of the undeveloped expanse of the Boulder-White Clouds, including some of the most spectacular meadows and peaks that rise from the Wood River Valley, would be permanently dedicated to priority use for motorized recreation.

· Up to 3,000 acres of federal public land, including tracts that were purchased with federal dollars to enhance the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, would be given away for the construction of developments and the creation of motorized thrill parks.

· Federal agencies would be prohibited from protecting stream flows within the newly designated wilderness, setting up a worst-case scenario where all of the water could be allocated to commercial uses, drying up trout streams.

· The interim protections offered to roadless lands as Wilderness Study Areas through the Sawtooth National Recreation Area Act would be removed, opening up thousands of acres to potentially damaging activities.

During his successful campaign for Idaho governor in the 1960s, Cecil Andrus spoke of the imminent threat of a huge open-pit mine proposed in the Boulder White Clouds. After his election, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area was established, ending the mine threat for good while rewarding a variety of protections for over 700,000 acres of stunning Sawtooth and Boulder-White Cloud wild country.

The Sawtooth legislation was founded on the premise that protecting Idaho's natural treasures was a good thing in and of itself. There was no provision to pay out the irreplaceable capital of wilderness in some places to protect it in other places.

Today, the protections that were mandated in the Sawtooth legislation are still in place and we are not faced with an imminent threat of irreversible damage to the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains. While there is no question that the Boulder-White Clouds should be added to the wilderness system, there is no urgency that justifies paying such a high price to get it.

Moreover, there is an alternative to CIEDRA that would protect the Boulder-White Cloud expanse without dedicating a huge chunk of it to unconditional motorized recreation, risking trout streams and gutting the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The Rockies Prosperity Act presently has 174 co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives and would protect the entire 500,000 acre Boulder-White Cloud undeveloped expanse as well as many other Idaho backcountry treasures.

I presently live in eastern Oregon, but I work in Idaho as a river guide, a job profoundly more sustainable than my past employment in the logging industry. I've seen Oregon's wild country fractured to remnant islands and cannot bear to watch the same thing happen to Idaho.

If we are going to keep Idaho "Idaho," we cannot accept the premise that we must cut off one hand to protect the other. The path that CIEDRA treads is dubious at best, and even more profoundly, unnecessary.

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