Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Stand up and oppose CIEDRA wilderness bill

Guest opinion by Scott Phillips

Scott Phillips, of Hailey, is a retired Forest Service professional who worked in outdoor recreation management.

Rep. Mike Simpson's Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA) is a bad deal for Idaho and the nation and has many flawed components.

The Idaho congressman's bill would create three islands of sub-standard "paper wilderness" transected by motorized corridors. Water rights would wrongly be transferred from the federal government to the state. There is no guarantee that grazing rights would be bought out as previously promised. Commercial outfitters are granted locked-in-place use levels and special privileges. To grease the skids, $20 million is authorized. Congress may never actually appropriate a dollar of that, making the U.S. Forest Service management challenge infinitely more problematic.

CIEDRA is environmentally suspect and fiscally unsound.

The public land giveaways are particularly galling. The current breakdown is:

· State of Idaho near Boise: 960 acres.

· Custer County: 2,565 acres.

· Blaine County: 425 acres.

· Mackay: 360 acres.

· Challis: 640 acres.

· Clayton: 40 acres.

· SNRA to Stanley: 162 acres.

· Total: 5,152 acres.

CIEDRA would negate the previous contract between the American people and Congress, namely the visionary Public Law 92-400 that created the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in 1972.

This contract has worked extremely well. Since '72, approximately 65 million taxpayer dollars ($7.5 million in 2005 alone) have been wisely invested to purchase land or acquire scenic easements on private land parcels within the SNRA to prevent unsightly subdivisions and crass commercial developments.

Privatization of the prime 162 SNRA acres slated for trophy homes, etc (and Salmon-Challis National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands) is a totally inappropriate means to an end to achieve "wilderness designation."

As former SNRA Ranger Carl Pence (1987-1992) has clearly stated, "What the SNRA needs is bold leadership and Congressional support."

What the SNRA and surrounding public lands do not need is to be dismembered with public land giveaways. CIEDRA is diametrically opposite of the largely successful PL 92-400 and would accelerate unsightly subdivisions and distasteful commercial development on the Sawtooth Valley floor and other locales. This is precisely the visual blight that the $65 million taxpayer investment (your money) over a successful 34-year time span was designed to prevent.

Simpson has publicly stated that it would be wrong to sell off up to 24,000 acres of national forest land in Idaho to fund rural schools.

Yet, in the same breath he is saying it is "OK" to give away 5,152 public land acres in his own pet privatization bill. Wouldn't you agree that this is being hypocritical? In my view, it is simply not Simpson's moral or ethical prerogative to slice and dice and give away your precious public lands.

The precedent-setting nature of CIEDRA is horrific. The rest of the West is watching. If CIEDRA were to pass (God forbid) can't you just see every other county in the Western United States with their hands outstretched saying, "Where is our free public land?"

The unraveling of our common heritage would be drastically accelerated. Privatization of our public lands is a terribly dangerous trend. If one is about to step onto what is obviously a dangerous and slippery slope, one should never do so expecting to fall up.

Please contact Rep. Butch Otter, R-Idaho; Simpson; Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and senior Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, also a Republican, and ask them to reject this fatally flawed bill. Time is of the essence as the bill may be considered by the House Resources Committee in July. This is now a national issue.

Please help by standing up strongly for truth, principle, and the bedrock integrity of your public lands. Our society can do infinitely better than CIEDRA.

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