Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Roadless plan could impact Boulder-White Clouds, too

Express Staff Writer

While the fate of Idaho's roadless areas remains in limbo, so too does the proposed Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness area.

The Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness bill was introduced by Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson in 2004 and revised this year in May. Called the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA), it proposes three separate wilderness areas comprising 300,011 acres, $20.45 million in appropriations and 2,000 to 3,000 acres in land gifts to Custer and Blaine counties.

The planned wilderness area, managed by the Sawtooth and Salmon-Challis national forests and the Bureau of Land Management, stretches 40 miles from Ketchum north to the Salmon River. It is home to elk, deer, bear, wolves, eagles, trout and salmon. The headwaters of eight rivers, including the East Fork of the Salmon, the Big Lost and the Big Wood rivers, are all located in the Boulder-White Clouds region.

Only the southernmost edge of the proposed wilderness is located in Blaine County. The rest is in Custer County.

The proposed Boulder-White Clouds wilderness and the restructuring of roadless area management, known as the Final Rule, are not related—at least not directly. Wilderness bills rest in the hands of Congress, while the future of the nation's roadless areas will be determined by Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns. His decision, expected next spring, will be based on public feedback collected by the state governors.

But if CIEDRA is shot down by Congress, the 300,011 acres proposed as wilderness will be lumped back into the roadless pool and fall under the management plan created by the Final Rule.

That being said, the fate of the Boulder-White Clouds could be entirely impacted by the Final Rule.

Custer County—with its generally anti-wilderness, pro-access electorate—hopes to maintain motorized access on its roadless lands. Blaine County will likely do the opposite, aiming to prevent additional access and road building.

Conservation groups, like Trout Unlimited, which seeks to protect habitat for cold water fish like trout and salmon, are afraid Custer County will be given too much precedence.

"Custer County has a huge potential wilderness area which belongs to all people of Idaho, and in fact all the people of the United States," Carmen Northen, president of Trout Unlimited's Hemingway Chapter based in Hailey, told the Idaho State Journal earlier this month. "It would be a crime if Custer County commissioners had the absolute say if that area would be developed or not."

But Jim Caswell, administrator of the Idaho Office of Species Conservation and Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's point man on the Final Rule, said counties that share public land, like Blaine and Custer, must reach a compromise.

"We can not and will not accept situations where roadless area's that cross the county boundary" have different management plans, he said. If the two counties do not reach an agreement, Caswell said the governor's office will take the issue into its own hands and prescribe the best management plan possible.

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