By BETHINE CHURCH
As time passes and I think more and more about our majestic wilderness areas, I am convinced more than ever that Idahoans who know and love the Boulder-White Clouds need to get behind the effort to have the area designated a national monument.
Given its current dysfunctional state, the chances of Congress passing legislation to protect this spectacular area grow more remote with each passing week. Monument designation would bring a sense of completion to an effort started in 1972 when my husband, U.S. Sen. Frank Church, achieved passage of legislation creating the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and wilderness area. The goal of that legislation was to protect one of Idaho’s iconic landscapes for current and future Idahoans.
The Sawtooth NRA and Wilderness have kept the heart of the Sawtooth country in good shape. But the passing years have demonstrated that additional steps should be taken to address issues and problems unforeseen when the Sawtooth NRA was established. We know so much more about the Sawtooth country as a whole than we did in 1972, particularly in regards to the needs of fish and wildlife that depend upon these lands. The Sawtooths, Boulder-White Clouds and East Fork Salmon River country together comprise some of Idaho’s best remaining salmon, steelhead and bull trout habitat, all species that have been listed under the Endangered Species Act since the Sawtooth NRA was established.
One of the best hopes we have of recovering these Idaho natives is proactive, comprehensive stewardship of these high-mountain watersheds. National monument designation is the most promising avenue to achieve that. Monument designation would unite the Sawtooth NRA with critical wildlife country to its east not currently part of the SNRA, such as the East Fork Salmon River, Jerry Peak and Herd Peak. All of these areas together provide some of the finest elk country in central Idaho. The recent formation of Sportsmen for the Boulder-White Clouds, comprised of individuals with intimate knowledge of these backcountry lands, shows that sportsmen in Idaho understand that monument designation would be a giant step towards the long-term preservation of Idaho’s hunting heritage.
Lands in the Boulder-White Clouds are currently managed by two national forests and one Bureau of Land Management field office. With management split between responsible agencies, chances for a comprehensive approach to managing the lands are too often lost. Monument designation would bring coordinated stewardship to this landscape. I have seen some missed opportunities for good, coordinated common-sense management on the ground in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, which is split between several national forests. Let’s take a lesson from that with a monument designation for the Boulder-White Clouds to unite the management agencies with a common goal of protecting this wild landscape. We can bring the existing Sawtooth NRA into a broader national monument designation that benefits the landscape as a whole.
Monument designation for the Boulder-White Clouds is an opportunity to proactively finish the job started over 40 years ago to provide the best comprehensive, long-term protection we can to one of Idaho’s classic landscapes. This part of Idaho is dear to my heart and deserves our best effort.
Bethine Church (Mrs. Frank Church), of Boise, serves on the Governing Council of The Wilderness Society and founded the Sawtooth Society.