Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Wilderness bill is palatable

Congressman Mike Simpson's wilderness bill is sausage.

It couldn't be anything else with a name like CIEDRA, which stands for Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Promotion Act. But this piece of legislative sausage is edible, and it's going to Congress for hearing soon.

The bill calls for designation of 301,500 acres of wilderness in three separate areas: the Ernest Hemingway Boulder Wilderness, 96,700 acres, the White Clouds Wilderness, 73,100 acres and the Jerry Peak Wilderness, 131,700 acres.

It's a ground-up concoction of compromises seasoned with the strongest spices of all—land and money. It gives away federal land to adjacent communities and counties in exchange for support. The Sierra Club is choking on these provisions.

The bill also offers up a large chunk of land and money for development of a motorized recreation site near Boise. It preserves an existing motorized corridor between the wilderness areas. This smells worse than an Idaho dairy and turns the stomachs of many conservationists.

The wilderness areas are not big enough for purists, and too big for motorized users whose unregulated inroads would be stopped cold.

Even so, instead of looking at a glass half empty, the pragmatic majority is looking at a glass half full. Even the Boulder White Clouds Wilderness Council, a tenacious group whose members have hiked every hillock, is backing the bill.

For solid reasons.

Advocates know the history of wilderness designations in Idaho. They have come piece by precious piece—six times since the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964. They know that wilderness in Idaho must have widespread support from citizens for passage.

They know that Idaho is not famous for progressive policies—just the opposite. Yet, a Republican congressman from this deep red state has hammered together a bill that has a chance of passage.

They also know that with every day and year that passes, Idaho's unprotected wilderness is being eroded by the intrusions of man. They know that this may be the last best chance to protect the Boulder and White Cloud mountains.

When former Idaho Sen. Jim McClure and former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus tried to bring the state together on a 1.4-million-acre statewide wilderness plan in 1987, they included just 150,000 acres in a Boulder-White Clouds wilderness. Squabbling between the "not enough" and "far too much" factions sank the proposal.

It's time for naysayers and purists of every persuasion to put aside their differences, come to the political table and get this legislation passed. The wilderness bill is plain fare, but good enough.

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