Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Work on wilderness bill not for naught

by Carl Pence

The Idaho Statesman recently carried a news article titled, "Simpson Work on Wilderness All for Naught." I don't know about others, but I learned a lot during my effort to stop or change the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, and that's certainly worth something. Before CIEDRA and new similar proposals are considered, the lessons most of us learned because of CIEDRA need to be considered and discussed in a truly open forum.

Because of CIEDRA and other similar, recent efforts, I now realize how far we may be willing to go in compromising the original concept of the visionary Wilderness Act of 1964 and how many other things some may be willing to give up in efforts to add acres to the wilderness system, even though imminent threats to the wilderness values may not exist.

I found it interesting the Statesman's article didn't mention there were numerous local groups and individuals who were worried enough about the legislation to fight hard to stop the bill. The article only implied it was stopped because of national interests against it or because it was dropped simply by last minute "horse trading." If you have to trade horses at the last minute, you will trade the one least important and most controversial. I believe our efforts against the bill helped identify CIEDRA as highly controversial, not all that needed, and one that certainly should not become law as a legislative "rider."

Speaking of use of the "rider" option, I was impressed with Idaho Republican Congressman Mike Simpson's abilities to use the back-room bargaining processes of politics to get CIEDRA out of the House and to the point of being a "rider" to a popular bill that was in process of being passed.

I will concede that Simpson is a skilled politician. However, bypassing the usual, deliberative legislative process and presenting CIEDRA as a non-controversial bill forged by "bottom-up" processes, supported by the majority of Idahoans and a "moral victory" isn't ethical considering the number of us, both local and national, with serious concerns over the controversial and precedent-setting aspects of CIEDRA.

I was amazed at how the idea that we were finally going to get more wilderness acres in the wilderness system after a 20-year hiatus overshadowed the content of the bill. By this, I'm referring to compromises to the original Wilderness Act, buyouts, land trades, land gifting to counties and cities, and the cost and complexities the legislation would impose on already under-funded, over-mandated agencies. And it was all for what? Just to be able to call an area "wilderness."

This question is especially poignant when the area would get better protection than CIEDRA offered if the agencies involved were to get congressional support, and thus sufficient funding and staffing to enforce existing laws and regulations.

So, I learned a lot during consideration of CIEDRA, both in regard to the quality of our political leadership as well as the standards of journalism in addressing the issues it contained.


Carl Pence is an Idaho native, born and raised in Custer County. He is a former U.S. Forest Service professional who retired from the Forest Service in 2002, after a 40-year career. He served as area ranger of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area from 1987 to 1993.

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