Friday, September 16, 2005

In an effort to clarify CIEDRA:

Guest opinion by John Osbourn and Douglas Christensen

John Osborn is a physician at the Veterans Hospital in Spokane, Wash., a former firefighter on the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, and the Sierra Club's conservation chair for Idaho and eastern Washington since 1985.

Douglas Christensen, of Ketchum, is a Sawtooth Society board member and a long-time environmentalist and conservation advocate for federal lands in the Wood River Valley area.

Doug Christensen, a Sawtooth Society board member, invited me to speak to the Society's annual board meeting on July 30 about Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson's proposed Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA) that would establish a Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness Area. Mr. Christensen summarized my talk in his guest opinion published Aug. 5 in the Mountain Express. Bethine Church (for whom I have enormous respect), who is the founder of the Sawtooth Society, responded on Aug. 12.

The Aug. 12 article signed by Bethine Church makes two central claims. The first claim stated that it's false that CIEDRA would give away 2,000 to 3,000 acres of public lands, including Sawtooth National Recreation Area lands. However, the bill's first section describes the land giveaways. Simpson's office also uses these same acreage figures.

Her second claim was that CIEDRA maintains the SNRA and "all of its protections." Far from it. CIEDRA would create a moderately sized wilderness, surrounded by motorized recreation. CIEDRA cuts away the eastern half of the SNRA created in 1972 under PL 92-400 by (1) changing the name, (2) changing the purpose and (3) changing the management.

(1) Changing the name: The area north of Ketchum-Sun Valley and east of Highway 75 to Stanley would no longer be the "SNRA": all non-wilderness acreage becomes the "Boulder-White Clouds Management Area." (CIEDRA Section 301)

(2) Changing the purpose: Congress established the SNRA with solid conservation purposes:

"In order to assure the preservation and protection of the natural, scenic, historic, pastoral, and fish and wildlife values and to provide for the enhancement of the recreational values associated therewith, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area is hereby established." (16 U.S.C.A. § 460aa)

CIEDRA changes the purposes of the 370,000 acres in the eastern half of the SNRA. Part of those lands would be formally designated as wilderness. But the rest of that portion of the SNRA, some 200,000 acres, would become the "Boulder White Clouds Management Area." CIEDRA designates these lands as Congressionally mandated motorized recreation:

"It is the purpose of this title to provide that motorized (ORVs) use of such lands shall be allowed in accordance with the travel map entitled `Boulder-White Clouds Management Area Travel Plan' and dated June 1, 2005." (CIEDRA Section 301)

The "travel plan" referred to above is being negotiated in Rep. Simpson's office. Make no mistake, when future conflicts arise between motorized recreation and the SNRA's conservation purposes, ORVs will likely prevail.

(3) Changing the management: CIEDRA prevents SNRA land managers from closing motorized trails. Instead, they can repair the damage, or relocate the trail. No matter how great the damage or risk to public safety, motorized recreation is protected by statute. (Section 303)

One example is the trail between Bowery Guard Station and Germania Creek. Already, ORVs have cut deep ruts in the high meadows and an intricate pattern of off-trail motorbike erosion crisscrosses the hillsides. Under CIEDRA, if the Forest Service opted to close this trail, it must either re-open or relocate it. Both options would lead to yet more ORV-caused damage.

CIEDRA provides $1,000,000 to fund motorized recreation in the newly created Boulder-White Clouds Management Area (Section 304).

If, as its proponents claim, CIEDRA makes no changes to the SNRA, why create a new Boulder-White Clouds Management Area at all? The answer: CIEDRA proposes a new management overlay on the (non-wilderness) eastern half of the SNRA. This overlay will promote intensive motorized use of the area. This trade—wilderness in exchange for ORV access—is a huge change.

The Sawtooth Society's Web site states its mission: Protect the SNRA. If CIEDRA in its present form is passed by Congress, the SNRA as it was made law in 1972 would no longer exist.

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