This could finally be the year for U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, who is taking another crack at passing his long-debated Idaho-centric wilderness bill.
Simpson, a Republican who represents Idaho's 2nd Congressional District, reintroduced the most recent version of the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, commonly known as CIEDRA, to the House of Representatives on Jan. 5.
The bill would designate 332,775 acres of wilderness, comprising land from the Sawtooth and Challis national forests.
"We're really optimistic," said Brett Stevenson, Central Idaho associate for the Idaho Conservation League, an organization that has supported CIEDRA since its first incarnation.
The reason for her optimism, Stevenson said, is that Simpson has more political clout this congressional session.
"He's in a more powerful position than he was last year," Stevenson said, citing Simpson's being named chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment, as well as the Republican majority in the House.
Simpson spokeswoman Nikki Watts said the bill contains no major changes.
"The bill that we just introduced is the same bill introduced last year," she said.
The current bill does away with controversial land transfers, contained in the original version, that would have opened segments of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area to development. All land conveyances, a total of 907 acres, are set aside for public use such as fire stations.
The bill does not address concerns raised by Idaho Gov. Butch Otter when it was introduced last year. The governor said he could not support it because it did not give the state helicopter access to the proposed wilderness, which he said would be required for management of wolves.
Though the state has currently relinquished all responsibility for wolf management, Watts said Simpson was still working on that issue, and helicopter access could still be included. As a rule, wilderness areas ban operation of motorized vehicles within their boundaries.
"I think it will still be on the congressman's radar screen," Watts said.
Otter spokesman Jon Hanian said the governor had not seen the most recent version of the bill and therefore could not comment on it. However, he said, Otter's opinion on wilderness as a whole is well documented.
"The governor feels pretty strongly that we already have enough wilderness designation in the state," Hanian said.
This marks the eighth time CIEDRA has been introduced in Congress. The bill was first introduced in the House of Representatives in 2004, and has subsequently died in committee each time.
Simpson's colleagues Sen. Jim Risch and Sen, Mike Crapo, both R-Idaho, introduced the bill in the Senate last year, though Risch later withdrew his support.
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