Friday, March 14, 2014

No timetable seen for decision on monument

Environmental issues gain traction in Obama administration


By GREG MOORE
Express Staff Writer

Conservationists are proposing that the White Cloud Mountains north of Ketchum, above, and some surrounding wilderness be designated as a national monument by the Obama administration. Express file photo

    Following the signing of an agreement last week between conservationists and mountain bikers, advocates of a national monument in the Boulder-White Clouds Mountains say they are continuing to provide information to the Obama administration but have no deadline in mind for designation.
    “Certainly they’re aware of this, but we haven’t seen any indication yet that they’re ready to consider this proposal,” said Rob Mason, central Idaho representative for The Wilderness Society.
    Mason said his organization is compiling the comments it received during four public meetings that it hosted over the past four months in Ketchum, Stanley, Challis and Mackay. He said an updated proposal taking those comments into consideration will be released within the next few months.
    “We’ll continue to fine-tune the monument proposal to make sure it’s an Idaho-based plan,” he said.
    Mason said the goal remains the preservation of most existing uses, including motorized recreation. He said monument advocates hope to continue discussions with motorcycle riders and snowmobilers to come to an agreement on which trails and areas should be open to those uses.
    “There’s absolutely no intent to exclude motors from any monument that the administration might designate,” he said.
    Meanwhile, hunters and anglers who support the designation have also been busy. Michael Gibson, outreach coordinator for the Boise-based group Sportsmen for Boulder-White Clouds, said his organization has gathered 335 signatures on a letter to be sent to the secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior. The letter urges designation of a national monument so long as it conserves high-quality fish and wildlife habitat and keeps those lands open to hunting, fishing and trapping.
    Gibson said the group will probably continue seeking signatures until this fall. The letter can be found at the website www.idahosportsmenforbwc.org.
    On Tuesday, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation adding the 1,665-acre Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands in Northern California to the California Coastal National Monument, which consists of thousands of small islands along the California coast. The new addition is the 10th national monument designation of the Obama presidency. Five were designated in March 2013.
    Six are fairly small historical or cultural sites. The 500,000-acre Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico most closely resembles the similar-size proposal for Idaho.
    Both the Rio Grande del Norte and the Point Arena-Stornetta designations appear to have had widespread public support. The Taos News reported that the town of Taos, the local county commission and the local chambers of commerce lent their support to the New Mexico conservation effort. The designation was also supported by both New Mexico senators. According to a New Mexico Wildlife Federation press release, Taos County Commissioner Larry Sanchez said there was “no local opposition to designating a national monument.”
    The Washington Post reported on Feb. 2 that Scott Schneider, chief executive of Visit Mendocino County, said he and other advocates had grown impatient with Congress’ pace on what is seen as a noncontroversial proposal for the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands that could boost tourism. Schneider told the paper that when Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visited the area in November, “we didn’t have a single person stand up and object.”
    Similar statements could not be made for the Boulder-White Clouds proposal, as both the Custer and Lemhi County boards of commissioners have signed resolutions opposing a national monument, while the Blaine County commissioners unanimously supported the idea in a resolution delivered to the White House early this month.
    Even so, Matt Keller, national monument campaign director for The Wilderness Society, said he thinks the Rio Grande del Norte effort provides “a useful template” for how the Boulder-White Clouds process could move forward. Keller said opposition to federal protection for the area decreased as legislation to create a national conservation area there was heard in a Senate committee and was modified in response to people’s concerns. That proposed legislation was eventually used as the basis for a national monument proclamation.
    “I wouldn’t say we had unanimous support, but pretty close to it,” he said.
    The proclamation states that existing BLM grazing policies shall remain in effect, and it limits motorized vehicle use to roads and bicycle use to roads and designated trails.
    The effort to achieve national monument status for the Boulder-White Clouds could be helped by an increasingly receptive attitude toward environmental causes within the Obama administration. The Washington Post reported on March 3 that new White House counselor John Podesta, who played a key role in crafting a national monuments strategy under President Bill Clinton, has been pushing the administration to provide more protection for public lands.
    Conservationists in New Mexico are hoping that Obama will soon designate a nearly 500,000-acre Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in the southern part of the state near Las Cruces.
Greg Moore: gmoore@mtexpress.com




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