Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Setting the record straight

Commentary by Mike Simpson

By Mike Simpson

With the U.S. House passage of the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA), Idaho is one step closer to realizing the benefits of the most important piece of public lands legislation proposed in the last 25 years. Having authored this legislation, I feel compelled to respond to comments made by the Sierra Club, singer Carole King and Congressman C.L. "Butch" Otter to clear up any misunderstandings about CIEDRA.

CIEDRA is a carefully balanced compromise that seeks to protect the needs of the people who live and recreate in the Boulder-White Clouds while offering wilderness protection to some of Idaho's most beautiful mountains. It's unique in that it's inclusive and recognizes the needs of motorized users, the community surrounding it, the ranchers who live in the area, even creating new opportunities such as a first of its kind "primitive access wheelchair trail" into the wilderness.

The Sierra Club and Congressman Otter's spokesman have voiced concerns about the protection of water rights. CIEDRA protects Idaho's water and the water rights of Idahoans. The Boulder-White Clouds are headwaters and not appropriated for water use. I specifically wrote into the legislation that there are no federal reserved water rights and that no water rights in Idaho will be affected. Idaho water law will be protected.

The Sierra Club and others are opposed to federal land transfers. While I oppose selling federal lands to pay for specific federal programs, there are some land transfers that make sense. In my bill, I transfer approximately 4,000 acres to Custer and Blaine counties. Most of this land will be used for infrastructure and municipal services. Custer County is over 95 percent public land and they need these land transfers to meet the needs of residents and those who recreate there.

It is important to keep in mind that the lands I want to transfer to local governments are not pristine wilderness, they are mostly covered in sagebrush but necessary for the county to operate. As for land that is not sagebrush, I have written access language into the bill so that hunters and fishermen can recreate as they have always done.

In a recent editorial printed in the Idaho Statesman, Otter's staff was quoted as stating that one of Otter's concerns is including "release language" for lands that aren't included as wilderness. This statement is difficult to understand since 131,600 acres of wilderness study areas are released from their current status and put back into multiple-use. Moreover, under CIEDRA, there will not be a single acre of land in the Boulder-White-Clouds managed as wilderness study area.

As for the Sierra Club's and Otter's concerns for the fate of traditional users, they should read the bill. CIEDRA does not create a motorized playground and it does not eliminate motorized use. CIEDRA locks in motorized use on almost all of the trails and snowmobile areas used today. It comes as close as possible to maintaining the status quo for future generations to use and enjoy.

CIEDRA has garnered the widespread support of local and statewide officials including the Custer County and Blaine County commissioners, East Fork ranchers, Sen. Mike Crapo, Gov. Jim Risch, former Govs. Cecil Andrus and Dirk Kempthorne, and former Sen. Jim McClure. They understand the importance of passing CIEDRA so that Idahoans, rather than the courts, decide how our land is managed.

This legislation is anything but a "rush job." It has been in the works for over six years and written in bill form for over three. I can understand that some people are unwilling to compromise and respect their reasons for that position. I am open to criticism of CIEDRA and the constructive dialogue that criticism can generate. But I'm not going to sit back and just listen when I hear the Sierra Club, or a Congressional spokesman, make accusations that are inconsistent with reality. To do so would be a disservice to the public and future generations of Idahoans.

Rep. Mike Simpson, a Republican, is serving his fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives for Idaho's 2nd Congressional District. He has been working for more than six years on a bill to designate wilderness and resolve other land-use issues in Central Idaho.

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