Wednesday, December 13, 2006

CIEDRA killed by 109th Congress

Legislation will be resurrected next month

Express Staff Writer

The Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act was left homeless and lifeless after failing to hitch a ride with a larger piece of legislation before the 109th Congress permanently adjourned last Friday.

But the wilderness and economic stimulus is by no means dead.

Rep. Mike Simpson, who first announced his plans to designate wilderness in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains north of Ketchum eight years ago, plans to reintroduce his bill when the 110th Congress convenes early next month.

"Mike had a very good chance but in the end it just didn't happen," Lindsay Slater, Simpson's chief of staff, said Monday. "Although he came very close, he is not looking for moral victories. We hope to see this through completion in the next Congress."

In exchange for designating as wilderness 319,900 acres of the Boulder-White Clouds, the bill was slated to grant more than 5,000 acres of public land to Custer County and its municipalities. The latter likely contributed to the bill's static nature in Congress' lame-duck session.

Simpson and Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig locked horns earlier this month after Craig demanded that the bill's concessions be delivered up front. Simpson viewed Craig's actions as a last-ditch effort to sideline Idaho's first wilderness designation in 26 years.

"Maybe he just disagrees with what we're doing," Simpson told The Associated Press. "What has always troubled me is when you disagree and then create reasons to oppose, but don't appear to oppose it. If you don't want more wilderness, just come out and say it."

The rift between the Idaho Republicans was labeled as uncharacteristic—Craig's spokesman Dan Whiting said the lawmakers' relationship will remain "excellent"—but strangely fitting. The proposed legislation, which relies on a series of delicately balanced compromises, also polarized the environmental community.

"I'm sure there are some (environmentalists) who were dancing in the streets," said Lynne Stone, who as the director of the Boulder-White Clouds Council has been fighting for wilderness designation in the majestic Idaho mountains for 25 years.

Former Sawtooth National Recreation Area recreation manager Scott Phillips certainly was.

"This was a fatally flawed bill from the start," Phillips said. "We are very gratified that it was stopped on Friday."

Phillips is part of a group of former SNRA land managers opposed to CIEDRA because of the land giveaways and what he referred to as "many other pork-barrel provisions" in the bill.

He said it was "shameful" that Simpson tried to attach the bill as a rider to larger legislation in the waning days of the lame-duck session.

"My goodness, my goodness, my goodness, this is a highly controversial bill," Phillips said. "The way to do the people's business is not to attach highly controversial legislation as a last-minute, highly stealth rider."

When told that Simpson planned to pursue CIEDRA's passage in the 110th Congress, Phillips was not pleased.

"If they think they're going to reintroduce this with all this crap in it, then they are delusional," Phillips said. "I mean, come on. I am amazed, flabbergasted."

Phillips noted that Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., has already spoken out against CIEDRA, saying the concessions "cheapened" the wilderness designation process. Rahall is expected to chair the House Resources Committee, where CIEDRA must re-commence its legislative journey when the Democrats take over Congress next year.

Stone and fellow CIEDRA supporter Linn Kincannon, of the Idaho Conservation League, both said there were chunks of the bill that were difficult to swallow, most notably the land giveaways.

But securing wilderness in Republican-dominated Idaho will become increasingly difficult in the future, and the land giveaways were a necessary evil, they contend.

"We've always said that we don't like all of the things in the bill," Kincannon said.

Stone sees it this way: "Look who is in power in Idaho. Every state office is held by a Republican. If you ever want to pass wilderness in Idaho, you will have to work with Republicans in this state and come up with something Democrats in power will buy into."

That being said, Kincannon and Stone are holding out hope that Democratic power could mold CIEDRA into a piece of legislation that would be more widely embraced by the environmental community.

I think it's interesting that the biggest road block Simpson faced was from Republicans who don't want wilderness," Kincannon said. "What happens next remains to be seen."

Stone said she's looking for the silver lining in it all.

"Sometimes when you lose, you win," she said. "The trick will be to get Simpson and Larry Craig and the Democrats to come up with something everyone can live with."

But Slater said changing certain aspects of the bill, such as removing the land giveaways, will be difficult because CIEDRA is so intricately molded by compromise.

"It's kind of like walking on a knife edge," Slater said. "It's difficult to change one thing because of the outcome on something else."

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