Friday, May 30, 2014

Group organizes to oppose monument

Custer County residents object to use of Antiquities Act

Express Staff Writer

     An organization recently formed in Custer County says it has gathered more than 1,000 signatures on a petition to oppose creation of a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument. The petition was posted online in mid-April.

     For the past year, the Idaho Conservation League and The Wilderness Society have been urging President Barack Obama to designate the monument using authority created by the Antiquities Act of 1906.

     The new organization, called Your Boulder-White Clouds, states on its website that it was formed to give voice to those Idahoans who believe the proposed 591,000-acre monument north of Ketchum is not needed to protect the area, about 40 percent of which is already included in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

     The group contends that current management of the Boulder-White Clouds by the U.S. Forest Service and BLM is effective and supported by most local people. It states that overlaying a national monument on top of the SNRA would create confused and inefficient management.

     “Top-down dictates can’t hope to be as well-informed or effective as decisions worked out ‘on the ground’ by people whose own lives are at stake,” the website states. “An Antiquities Act proclamation would blow up the partnership of local federal agencies, state and local government, and private entities that are effectively managing the Boulder-White Clouds now.”

     The organization also argues that presidential proclamation is an undemocratic process and that no guarantees for how the monument would be managed can be made beforehand.

     Your Boulder-White Clouds volunteer Campbell Gardett, a resident of the tiny town of Chilly in the Lost River Valley, said in an interview that the organization was formed by half a dozen Custer County residents who were concerned that there was no organized response to the proponents’ message.

     “Their characterization of what they’re doing to make this an Idaho-made plan makes it appear that there’s sort of a groundswell in Idaho to create a monument, whereas our guess is that most Idahoans don’t want it to be created in this way,” Gardett said.

     Gardett said organization members believe the Antiquities Act is an inappropriate tool for the area. He said any changes to land management in the Boulder-White Clouds should be done by an act of Congress, not by “presidential fiat.”

     “There really needs to be some kind of threat present to trigger legitimate use of the act,” he said. “Maybe we do want to do something different with [the Boulder-White Clouds] in the long run, but there’s no emergency that needs to be addressed.”

     The act does not require an imminent threat to an area for it to be protected by presidential proclamation. However, Gardett pointed out that most modern uses of the act to protect large areas have mentioned potential harm. Those include the expiration of protection authority provided by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act when President Jimmy Carter designated 17 national monuments in Alaska; the possibility of coal mining when President Bill Clinton designated the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah in 1996; and the potential for vandalism to Native American relics when President Barack Obama designated the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in New Mexico last week.

     “There’s just nothing comparable to that in the Boulder-White Clouds,” Gardett said.

     A report done by the Congressional Research Service in 2010 states that litigation and legislation related to the law have been pursued throughout its history, including a U.S. Supreme Court case over President Theodore Roosevelt’s designation of a Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908. However, no court challenges have been successful. The report states that courts have given great deference to presidential authority, and have ruled that the act may protect natural wonders and wilderness values.

     As of Tuesday, Your Boulder-White Clouds had collected 1,135 signatures on its petition. The Idaho Conservation League has collected more than 4,000 signatures on a petition in favor of a monument, placed online in March.

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