Friday, September 9, 2005

Boulder-White Clouds should be wilderness

Guest opinion by Margaret Fuller

Margaret Fuller is the author of "Trails of the Sawtooth and White Cloud Mountains," a popular guide to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. She lives in Weiser.

Please read Congressman Mike Simpson's wilderness bill (CIEDRA) for the Boulder-White Clouds on his Web site, Its strong point is that it designates 300,011 acres of land in three wildernesses: the White Cloud, the Hemingway (Boulders), and the Jerry Peak (northeast of the Boulders.)

Simpson's bill does make some compromises. It leaves part of the White Clouds and Boulders open to motorized travel. It gives a few acres of public land to four towns and two counties to help them with their economic problems. It buys the grazing allotments of ranchers willing to sell, which will help prevent erosion and stream pollution.

When the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness was designated by Congress 25 years ago, it included compromises: jet boats, road corridors, use of existing airstrips, and a cobalt mining area. These provisions caused much controversy. Yet it works as wilderness.

Since then, new forms of trail recreation, such as mountain bikes, have been invented, and improved equipment has made others more popular. Leaving some areas for the new uses is only fair.

Due to the increase in tourism, second homes and backcountry recreation, more public services are needed in Challis, Clayton, Mackay and Stanley and in Custer County. The small parcels of land can provide an endowment to help pay for such services, if these local governments administer it wisely.

In the August 2005 version of the bill, detailed deed restrictions ensure that development conforms to existing federal standards for the use of private land in the SNRA, thereby preserving its scenery, fish, wildlife and rural character. The deed restrictions provide for enforcement by Custer County and by the city of Stanley for the two parcels in the SNRA and for the land to revert to the U.S. government if the land use does not comply with the restrictions. Therefore, the deed restrictions will have a similar effect to the existing scenic easements on much of the private property within the SNRA. (Scenic easements still need to be established for the rest of the private property in the SNRA.)

Environmentalists who oppose the bill, while well intentioned, are not living in the real world of politics and competing interests. The refusal of environmentalists, ranchers and motorized recreationists to compromise is what has delayed the Boulder-White Clouds wilderness for 33 years.

Idahoans should support Simpson's bill. It is a good compromise between competing interests and the best chance we have had for wilderness for the Boulder-White Clouds since the SNRA was formed in 1972. The White Cloud and Boulder mountains deserve to be designated wilderness. When the sunlight hits the white peaks at a low angle, they glow as though they have a light inside. The Boulder Mountains are striped with pink and gray or dark red and orange. The Jerry Peak area has partly timbered mountains, excellent wildlife habitat and great adventure.

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