By ORVAL HANSEN
I am writing to express serious concerns about a proposal to designate via presidential proclamation a very large national monument in central Idaho encompassing a substantial portion of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA) including the Boulder and White Cloud mountains. An overlay of a new national monument on an area like the SNRA that is already protected by law is virtually unprecedented. At a minimum, this suggests great care must be taken to avoid conflicting laws or regulations, the undermining of existing protections and serious confusion. The need for such an overlay should be clear and urgent.
The SNRA was established more than 40 years ago under Public Law 92-400. I was privileged to join Idaho Sens. Frank Church and Len Jordan and Idaho Congressman Jim McClure in working for the enactment of the legislation. It was my bill, H.R. 6957, that was signed into law by the president. The SNRA enjoyed strong bipartisan support in the Congress as well as among the public in Idaho and throughout the intermountain region. That support has broadened and deepened over more than four decades.
I am proud to have joined with countless others in creating and helping to preserve this magnificent natural heritage.
The Forest Service moved promptly to implement the SNRA by acquiring, with the cooperation of the landowners, scenic easements to provide permanent protection for the area from unplanned and unsightly development.
The SNRA is an area of unmatched scenic beauty. Often referred to as “Idaho’s Crown Jewel,” it has been well protected and preserved for the enjoyment of millions of visitors and residents who live, work and recreate there.
Advocates of the national monument should provide prompt and detailed answers to two questions: First, what are the specific threats to the area that require protection? Second, which of these threats cannot be protected against under the existing authority of the SNRA with, if necessary, appropriate modifications to the applicable laws? The people and organizations most closely associated with the SNRA, those who would be most affected by the creation of a national monument in the area, have repeatedly asked these questions of proponents of the national monument. Sadly, to date no clear and convincing answers have been forthcoming. I am writing now in the hope that before giving any serious consideration to the national monument proposal you and appropriate members of your administration will insist on such answers.
The proposed national monument, in overlaying nearly 40 percent of the SNRA, would create dangerous fragmentation of its management by dividing responsibility between two management plans, one for the national monument developed jointly by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management and the other developed solely by the Forest Service. In addition, there are serious risks of inadvertent consequences from such an overlay, such as undermining existing protections and overloading the fragile high alpine and limited infrastructure and emergency services of the SNRA through increased visitation.
This appears to fall within the category of projects where the advice, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is applicable.
I am proud to have joined with countless others in creating and helping to preserve this magnificent natural heritage for the enjoyment be future generations. We join in urging that careful consideration be given to any potential long term effects before any irreversible actions are taken.
Editor’s note: The writer sent this letter to President Barack Obama last month.
Orval Hansen is a former U.S. representative for Idaho’s 2nd congressional district.