Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Why so hard on Larry Craig?

I just finished reading your article of Friday, Dec. 15, regarding Sen. Larry Craig's stance on Congressman Mike Simpson's Boulder/White Clouds Wilderness proposal (CIEDRA). I have to say, I feel your assessment of Sen. Craig's position was somewhat biased and unfair. When you are standing on the other side of the wilderness fence, Sen. Craig's position is a lot easier to understand.

First off, if wilderness designation for Idaho's backcountry is as good of an idea as the conservation folks would like us to believe, then towns like Stanley, Challis and Mackay would be just falling all over themselves, trying to get Idaho's congressional delegation to draw up wilderness bills for them. But, in fact, they are not. The fact that Congressman Simpson is bribing the people of Blaine and Custer counties with federal land to get them to go along with the idea of designating wilderness nearby speaks volumes for how unpopular the whole wilderness concept is. The folks in Stanley are going to get to build multi-million dollar trophy houses in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, in exchange for going along with this wilderness bill. Without such provisions, this bill would not go anywhere.

On the other hand, all of the parties involved in this proposal deserve to get the compensation they are granted in the proposal, should this bill someday be approved. But all of those agreements and deals aren't worth anything if there's no money to pay for them. You see, Simpson's proposal, if adopted, simply authorizes the designation of wilderness. The money to pay for it must also be allocated by Congress. Sen. Craig simply wants to make sure that the groups and individuals that have things promised to them under CIEDRA actually get what they are promised. Isn't that fair? After all, you wouldn't expect a city or county government to authorize the building of a new school or road without some idea of how they were going to pay for it.

Sen. Craig was drawing on his experience as an Idaho congressman when he made this decision. A few years ago, there was a big wilderness bill passed for the Steens Mountains in Oregon. The ranchers who were operating in the area were promised federal land and money in exchange for their grazing rights and property in the proposed wilderness area. But the money never came. Congress approved the wilderness area, but not the funding to go with it, leaving the local people high and dry. Sen. Craig wants to make sure that doesn't happen here in Idaho. He's looking out for his constituents in Custer and Blaine counties to guarantee that they get what they bargained for.

I don't believe that wilderness bills are all that they are cracked up to be and I feel that CIEDRA gives away way too much federal land and eliminates too many recreational opportunities for the few environmental "protections" it offers. But if the local people bargain for something in a wilderness debate, they deserve to get what they agreed to, not a pot full of empty promises. Sen. Craig deserves to be commended for making sure that his fellow congressmen keep their word and do what they say they will do.

Carl Bloomquist


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