Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Monument plan needs careful scrutiny


    As momentum for national monument designation for the Boulder-White Clouds builds, the recurring pattern of myopic interests aggressively advocating for a specific outcome, prior to any substantive investigation, repeats itself.
    Once again, propaganda and hype will be attempted as a substitute for thoughtful consideration of details and the application of logic and reason. Sadly, for nonprofits already on board, monument status appears to be more about fundraising than rational and appropriate public lands’ policy. A proposal for such a dramatic change in the statutes governing the management and use of this precious resource deserves an extremely thorough examination. This is not the CIEDRA wilderness bill.
    Decades have been spent refining the Codes of Federal Regulation for Public Law 92-400, governing the policies creating the unique character and experience of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. In the entire history of this nation, the best value taxpayers ever received for their money is the purchase of the scenic easements securing the environmental and aesthetic integrity of both the Upper Salmon River watershed and the Sawtooth and White Cloud mountain ranges from which it is formed. The values that one finds in this place simply cannot be measured in dollars.
    Monument status would irrationally paint a target on an area currently achieving a truly remarkable balance between multiple use and preservation. The site-hardening at Redfish is an example of the recreational infrastructure development necessary to accommodate increasing visitation and mitigate associated impacts. People are a commodity for which more isn’t necessarily better. Any significant increase in concentration requiring commensurate urbanization is a direct contradiction of the intent of Congress in establishing the SNRA to restrain residential development and restrict density on contiguous private lands. Monument status would simply put the mobile-home parks on public lands.   
    Will there eventually prove to be a hydraulic link between the expanding ocean of toxic soup from RV dump stations and the river we float and fish? Will the obvious limitations of roads accessing the area result in an increase in accidents and congestion? Which direction will emergency response resources come from and who will pay for them? Will a drive from special interests on this side of the hill further deepen any divisions with our neighbors from Custer County? Is it fair to aggressively advance an agenda with the potential to deteriorate the quality of life of others? Would this simply be the first step in the common evolution from national monument to national park? I am just scratching the surface here.
    I appreciate the Sawtooth Society’s measured approach to the discussion and upcoming debate. Experience has revealed the bandwagon is often propelled by an artificial sense of urgency. The time that is taken in making any decision should be in proportion to the possible consequences of that decision. This is a huge issue. The process will and should be exhaustive. Stakeholders have yet to be identified, and evidence and testimony gathered and presented. If we are going to abandon decades of carefully crafted administrative and management policy, the framework for a replacement structure has to be an improvement. Upon admittedly cursory investigation, my position now is that monument designation will prove the opposite.
    Long ago, for one of these letters, I quoted Joni Mitchell’s lyric about parking lots. A national monument promises considerably more of these. The beauty we have all come to treasure in the Heart of Idaho has perhaps more to do with what this place isn’t, than what it is. In the words of John Lennon, “Let it be.”

    William F. Hughes lives in Hailey.

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