Friday, August 5, 2005

Sawtooth Society urged not to support CIEDRA

Guest opinion by Douglas Christensen

Douglas Christensen, of Ketchum, is a longtime environmentalist and conservation advocate for federal lands in the Wood River Valley area.

The Sawtooth Society held its annual board meeting on July 30 in Stanley. Bethine Church, the founder of the organization and widow of Sen. Frank Church, stepped down as president. Bob Hayes, a former public relations officer with Boise Cascade Corp., was elected to serve as board president and will continue as executive director of the society.

The Sawtooth Society mission statement, as posted to its Web site states:

"The Sawtooth Society is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization formed in 1997 to help protect the 756,000-acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA). The society's mission is to help preserve and protect the natural, historical and recreational qualities of the SNRA."

A major source of continuing discussion within the Sawtooth Society is its qualified support for Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson's proposed Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA) that would create a designated wilderness area in the Boulder-White Clouds mountains. Several board members oppose CIEDRA, and the society has been criticized by many in the Stanley area for its role in negotiating the land giveaways in the bill.

John Osborn, a physician and conservationist with deep family ties to the Sawtooth area, who had been invited to provide a summary of the opposition to CIEDRA, addressed the meeting. Osborn has served since 1985 as conservation chair for the Sierra Club chapter in Idaho and eastern Washington, and had served 15 years each on the boards of the Idaho Conservation League and Idaho Wildlife Federation. He is senior physician at the VA hospital in Spokane.

Osborn presented three major reasons why CIEDRA does not merit the support of the Sawtooth Society: the bill would (1) cut away the Boulder-White Clouds portion of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, some 370,000 acres, half of the SNRA; (2) give away 2,000-3,000 acres of public lands, including SNRA lands; (3) fail to protect the area's water, which is needed for instream flows, fish, and wildlife.

Osborn challenged some society board members who labeled opponents to CIEDRA as "purists" by pointing out that over 250 local people had signed petitions opposing the giveaways of SNRA lands in the Stanley area. CIEDRA would reverse one of the very purposes for creating the SNRA—protecting the Sawtooth Valley and Stanley Basin from development.

The Forest Service has spent nearly $58 million since the SNRA was established to protect the valley floors—and scenic vistas considered to be among the most beautiful in the Mountain West. Osborn provided Sawooth Society board members a copy of a guest opinion written by 13 retired Forest Service land managers, including former SNRA superintendents and area rangers, all opposing CIEDRA, in part because of the giveaways of 162 acres of SNRA lands.

One society board member asked Osborn about the Sawtooth Society's role in the private negotiations to give away public land near Stanley. He pointed out that the society's executive director, Bob Hayes, has actively participated in selecting these public lands, and the board might wish to ask Mr. Hayes for an accounting of his role in so doing.

· Failing to protect the area's water.

In 2000, the Idaho Supreme Court—in a highly politicized decision—stripped the Sawtooth National Recreation Area of its federal reserved water rights. Osborn pointed out this ruling was contrary to the intent of the Sawtooth enabling act and inconsistent with 90 years of precedent that established the doctrine of implied water rights for federal lands. With no federal protection of water rights in the Sawtooth NRA, Idaho is free to continue issuing water rights from the Salmon River and its tributaries, even while endangered salmon migrate an incredible 900 miles from the Pacific Ocean to spawn in these mountain rivers.

· "A moderate-sized wilderness surrounded by a motorized raceway."

Osborn pointed to a map of the SNRA and showed how all lands north of Ketchum-Sun Valley and east of Highway 75 to Stanley would be effectively cut out of the SNRA. CIEDRA would transfer 370,000 acres—almost exactly half of the SNRA—into a Boulder-White Clouds Management Area. CIEDRA would superimpose on this area a new land-use regime that emphasizes and expands motorized recreation. Dirt bikes and snowmobiles would have priority use on many areas not protected as wilderness—undoing the conservation purpose for which the SNRA was established. Osborn noted that CIEDRA establishes a moderate-sized wilderness surrounded by a motorized raceway.

Osborn encouraged the Sawtooth Society to reverse its position. The society, committed in its mission statement to preserve and protect the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, should oppose CIEDRA.

He recommended that board members do "some soul-searching" about the jeopardy their actions could be bringing to the SNRA they are charged to protect.

I support and endorse Osborn's position in this crucial time for the future of the lands we all love.

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