Friday, July 27, 2007

How much wilderness is enough?

By Adena Cook


Congressman Mike Simpson's Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act is actually a Boulder-White Cloud wilderness bill, although the word "wilderness" doesn't appear in its title. The bill designates 318,765 acres of wilderness in three sections.

Idaho currently has just over 4 million acres of designated wilderness in six units, the massive Frank Church River of No Return, the Selway-Bitterroot, the Sawtooth, the Gospel-Hump, Hells Canyon, and Craters of the Moon. The first of these, the Selway-Bitterroot, was designated in the original 1964 Wilderness Act and the last, the Frank Church-River of No Return, in 1980. The latter is the largest contiguous wilderness in this country outside of Alaska.

So, how much is enough? Wilderness advocates tell us that we need more and cite the fact that none have been designated since 1980 as a justification. It is like we have a quota and have failed to meet it. This is a figment of their imaginations. We have already designated the best of our really qualified wild lands. Advocates claim more lands need "protection," yet our current wilderness areas are ravaged by wildfires, and more trails vanish every year due to neglect. Is this protection?

Idahoans want their wild lands to be protected. They place a high value on scenic beauty, wildlife, challenge and the spiritual renewal that those wild lands offer. They also want to be able to access them and recreate on them. This means good management for fish and wildlife, the ecosystem, and for people. The SNRA provides that.

Wilderness is not about recreation, and it is not about fish or wildlife. Wilderness is only about retaining its wilderness character, a place where nature rolls the dice and one of its biggest is fire. Recreation is permitted, but only the most primitive forms and only to the extent that it doesn't compromise its wilderness character and integrity. That's fine. I agree with more than 4 million acres of it in Idaho. But that's enough.

What CIEDRA does emphasize in its title is economic development and recreation. These provisions may or may not ever happen. Congress must appropriate the money first in separate legislation. CIEDRA only authorizes but does not appropriate a penny of its $13.5 million in giveaways and project funding. Two things in CIEDRA are certain, however: First, 5,693.47 acres of valuable public land will given away, some of it to be sold for development, and, second, 318,765 acres of public land will become federally designated wilderness.

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Adena Cook is a resident of Idaho Falls.




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