| Castle Peak towers over the lakes and forests of the White Cloud Mountains north of Ketchum.
After waiting for more than seven years while a Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill remained stagnated in Congress, the Idaho Conservation League has adopted a new tactic toward protecting the mountainous area north of Ketchum—designation as a national monument.
Unlike national parks, which can only be created by Congress, national monuments are designated by the president under the Antiquities Act.
In early April, ICL Executive Director Rick Johnson traveled to Washington, D.C., to discuss the idea with members of the Council on Environmental Quality, which advises the president on environmental issues, and the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the U.S. Forest Service.
“There’s no [political] cost to the administration to do it,” Johnson said in an interview last week.
Much of the area covered by the Boulder and White Cloud mountains—on the east side of state Highway 75 between Ketchum and Stanley—is included in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. That designation protects it from development that would substantially impair its scenic and recreational values. However, many conservationists have feared an expansion of motorized recreational use in the area, and have advocated wilderness designation to prevent that.
In 2005, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, introduced his Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, which would protect part of the area as wilderness while allowing most existing motorized use and providing economic benefits to Custer County. However, the bill has never made it out of Congress, due partly to opposition from Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Gov. Butch Otter.
A Boulder-White Clouds National Monument is not a new idea. A proposed designation order was drafted by then-Secretary of the Interior and former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne in 2008, though it was never presented to President George W. Bush for approval.
The idea was resurrected in July 2010 by former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus—also a former secretary of the Interior—in a letter to President Barack Obama.
“Long-term protection of the Boulder-White Clouds area in central Idaho is best arrived at by the kind of process Rep. Simpson has championed for ten years,” Andrus wrote. “I support his approach, but reluctantly concede that some will never embrace real collaboration and will instead opt for delay and no decision. …
“I would respectfully request that you instruct the appropriate federal agencies to place the Boulder-White Clouds area on the list for consideration for National Monument status.”
Johnson said designation as a national monument would provide several benefits over the area’s current status as a national recreation area:
- Potential expansion of the protected area.
- The likelihood of more federal funding.
- A higher public profile, which would boost tourism.
- The opportunity to prohibit expansion of motorized use.
Specific management directives for a national monument would be decided by the Interior Department.
Though the Antiquities Act was passed in 1906 primarily to protect archeological sites, it was used almost immediately to protect much larger areas, including the Grand Canyon, designated as a national monument in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt. The act’s use has sometimes been controversial, most notably when President Bill Clinton designated the vast Escalante National Monument in 1996 with less than 24 hours notice to Utah politicians, most of whom opposed restrictions on use of the land there.
Johnson said he wants to avoid that sort of controversy around a potential Boulder-White Clouds National Monument. He said he hopes all interested parties become involved in the process, and emphasized that the ICL will not pursue the most restrictive regulations possible.
“I believe that this has to complement Idaho’s conservative values if it is to endure,” he said. “I want to protect something that generations of Idahoans will be fantastically proud to live beside—I don’t want them to resent it.”
He said that would have to include continued hunting in the area.
Several bills have recently been introduced in Congress to eliminate or restrict the authority of a president to designate new national monuments, including one by Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho. To be made law, any such bill would need to be signed by the president or obtain the support of two-thirds of Congress to override a presidential veto.
An inquiry to the White House press office regarding the proposal’s status was not returned by press deadline Tuesday.
Greg Moore: email@example.com