Friday, August 12, 2005

Boulder-White Clouds bill won't 'steal' SNRA lands


Doug Christensen is a longtime friend, and he has served on the Sawtooth Society board of directors for several years. But Doug is off base in his implicit attack on the Society and his claims about the proposed Boulder-White Clouds wilderness legislation (called the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act [CIEDRA]).

The centerpiece of Doug's guest opinion, printed in the Aug. 5 Mountain Express, is the astonishing assertion that the bill would "cut away the Boulder-White Clouds portion of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, some 370,000 acres." This is simply not so, and it is distressing to hear Doug make such a claim. To the contrary, the bill expressly maintains the SNRA, and all of its protections, for the portion of the Boulder-White Clouds within the SNRA that would not be wilderness and instead would be encompassed in the bill's "management area" designation. Perhaps Doug did not read the most recent version of the bill, which contains at least a half-dozen provisions requiring that those portions of the proposed management area that are within the SNRA be managed in accordance with SNRA protections. For example, section 301(b) of the bill states that "if lands in the management area are also included in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area," the lands "shall" be administered "in accordance with Public Law 92-400"—that is, in accordance with the SNRA law.

Another problem with Doug's letter is that it states that the bill would "give away 2,000-3,000 acres of public lands, including SNRA lands." This is extremely misleading, and may leave the impression that the bill seeks transfer of hundreds or even thousands of acres within the SNRA. Again, untrue.

The Sawtooth Society does not like the idea of land transfers. However, if the political reality is that a successful bill will involve a transfer, we have insisted that any SNRA land transferred for residential development must be less than 100 acres in the aggregate, must be contiguous to already developed property, and must be encumbered with deed restrictions that meet or exceed SNRA standards. The bill meets these requirements. The bill identifies two parcels, both adjacent to Stanley, totaling 94 acres. A later-added non-residential parcel, some 68 acres (also adjacent to Stanley), is proposed for affordable employee housing. In other words, the bill proposes to transfer 162 acres of SNRA land in or adjacent to Stanley, not hundreds or thousands. The restrictions the bill imposes for these lands are more stringent than those in the original SNRA law. Folks can differ about land transfers, but with these conditions included, we think the bill is an acceptable compromise to obtain the other benefits of the bill, including Boulder-White Clouds wilderness and reductions in motorized vehicle and grazing use of large portions of the area.

As a Society, we have worked with Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson to protect the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in every instance. Bob Hayes, our executive director, has given endless hours to ensure that the rules that manage the SNRA are followed in any bill that is enacted on this subject.

Former U.S. Sen. James McClure and Rep. Orval Hansen and Gov. Cecil Andrus, each of whom was instrumental in the passage of the original SNRA bill, agree with me that the Simpson bill protects the integrity of the original SNRA law.

When I retired as president of the Sawtooth Society last week, I said that my voice would still be heard. I just didn't realize how soon. I'm doing this for the sake of clarification and for the Society.

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