Friday, June 18, 2010

CIEDRA deemed a ‘tough sell’

Wilderness bill rides momentum after hearing, but opposition looms

Express Staff Writer

This map shows the area included in CIEDRA, as well as the proposed changes in trail access. Courtesy graphic.

­­The proposed Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act will be a "tough sell," said Rick Johnson, executive director of the nonprofit Idaho Conservation League, after a U.S. Senate hearing Wednesday.

The bill, commonly referred to as CIEDRA, was heard before the Senate Subcommittee for Public Lands and Forests. It was introduced by Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, the latter a subcommittee member. The subcommittee heard testimony from 11 witnesses, including Johnson.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, has crafted CIEDRA over 10 years. The bill was first introduced in the House of Representatives, without success, in 2004. Lindsay Slater, Simpson's chief of staff, said the bill was introduced in the Senate this time around because Simpson expects it to get a more favorable treatment in committee there.

Johnson—who's worked with Simpson to gain approval for CIEDRA—called Wednesday's hearing, which considered a revised version of the original bill, "a very big deal."

"They don't schedule hearings as a courtesy," Johnson said, adding that the hearing meant the committee was seriously considering the bill.

This latest version of CIEDRA would create three wilderness areas, totaling 332,775 acres. The Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness and the White Clouds Wilderness would comprise land from the Sawtooth and Challis national forests, while the Jerry Peak Wilderness covers land managed by the Challis District of the Bureau of Land Management and the Challis National Forest.

More than 130,000 acres previously under consideration for wilderness designation would be released. The Germania Creek Trail, running between the White Clouds Wilderness and the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness, would remain open to multiple use. Among 35 miles of trails closed to mountain bikers would be the Grand Prize trail and the Warm Springs Creek trail, though the Frog Lake loop would remain open.

These closures have prompted opposition to the bill from several recreational groups, including the Blue Ribbon Coalition, based in Pocatello. Brian Hawthorne, the coalition's public lands policy director, said snowmobilers and other recreationists would get "a raw deal" if the bill is passed.

The trails being closed to mountain bikers are unique, he said, and while the coalition is in support of protecting land from commercial interests, recreationists are "trying to keep what we have." Hawthorne said the land in question is already protected by the National Recreation Act and doesn't need for further restrictions.

Gov. Butch Otter remains unconvinced that Idaho needs more wilderness, stating in a letter to Risch and Crapo—who support CIEDRA—that his opposition to the bill "should not surprise anyone." The governor opposes the land-use restrictions wilderness designation brings.

Some wilderness groups, on the other hand, say the bill isn't restrictive enough. George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch, called the new version of CIEDRA "remarkably better than previous versions," but said the Germania Creek trail remains an area of concern. The trail divides the designated wilderness, which, he said, fragments potential wildlife habitats.

"Congress needs to recognize national significance of this area and remove those motorized corridors," Nickas said. "It's unconscionable to split this large area with a motorized route."

He said that's especially so since the bill would open one-third of the area previously eligible for wilderness designation to multiple use.

Still, he said, many of Wilderness Watch's previous recommendations have been included in the newest version of CIEDRA.

Janine Blaeloch, director of public lands for Seattle-based Western Lands Project, also acknowledged that CIEDRA has been "vastly improved," though she said the organization still opposes the bill.

"The bill really has been transformed from what it was," Blaeloch said.

She said a major concern of the organization had been proposed land transfers from the Sawtooth National Recreation Area that would have been open to development. Those were deleted from the current version of CIEDRA.

All land conveyances in the new bill, a total of 907 acres, go directly to county and city governments specifically for public purposes. Existing grazing in the area would also be permitted, though no new grazing allotments would be issued.

Meanwhile, numerous conservation groups, including the ICL and The Wilderness Society, firmly support CIEDRA.

Overall, Johnson said, the bill represents a series of compromises among various interest groups in an attempt to create a fair and balanced piece of legislation.

"This has been a long process of collaboration," Johnson said.

He said that although minor tweaking of the bill is expected, any serious changes would meet with opposition from the ICL.

If the subcommittee members and various interest groups can agree on a version of the bill, it will be considered by its parent Energy and Natural Resources Committee and then by the full Senate. The House of Representatives has yet to review the new version of CIEDRA.

Slater said one of the most significant roadblocks to the bill in the House is the alliance between part-time Stanley resident and singer Carole King and Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.V., chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, where wilderness bills begin their legislative journey in the House. King has been vocal in her support of a more inclusive wilderness bill, the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA), which would establish 24 million acres of new wilderness, including 500,000 acres in the Boulder-White Clouds.

Despite that opposition and the long legislative journey ahead of the bill, Slater said his boss is optimistic.

"Congressman Simpson believes this is the year it's going to get done," he said.

Katherine Wutz:

What's in CIEDRA?

The new bill includes the following provisions:

· 110,217 acres of federal land for the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness.

· 90,888 acres of federal land for the White Clouds Wilderness.

· 131,670 acres of federal land for the Jerry Peak Wilderness.

· 131,616 acres released to multiple use from the wilderness study area.

· 907 acres of conveyances to Blaine County, Custer County, the city of Challis and other public entities.

· 35 miles of trails closed to motorcycles and mountain bikes.

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