Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A monumental mistake?


    Ongoing propaganda that the Boulder-White Clouds are unprotected is overstatement at best, outright falsehood and demagoguery at worst. With the well-wrought Sawtooth National Recreation Area up and running and other areas in need of protection, a monument designation for the Boulder-White Clouds could be a step backward.
    The Boulder-White Clouds are protected. The SNRA Act (Public Law 92-400) is not bulletproof, but it is thorough in protections and is visionary as regards contingencies and upgrades. Along with six key points of preservation—natural, scenic, historic, pastoral, fish and wildlife—it’s about stopping mining. New patents can’t be issued (Appendix I, Sec. 12), and the secretary of agriculture can acquire existing mineral interests with or without the consent of the owner, thus retiring those lands and interests from exploitation (Appendix I, Sec. 3e).
    Anytime substantial impairment to the six key values is possible, the law will bare its teeth. Even if the secretary of agriculture doesn’t invoke the acquisition clause above, legal action might be taken under the substantial impairment clauses. The same goes for timber, grazing, etc.

If President Obama is going to wield the monument pen, let’s point it at the Pioneers,
or the Lost River Range.

    Another contingency feature is for the secretaries of agriculture and interior to stand watch and “promulgate” regulations needed to prevent surface destruction—the building of roads (Sec. 11).
    The creators of the SNRA also envisioned a need for additional protection in key interior areas. A study funded within the act points to “a national park or other unit of the national park system” being established in these sanctum sanctorum areas of the backcountry. Such action was taken on the Sawtooth side but not the White Clouds. Perhaps it is time for an area ranging from, say, Railroad Ridge to Castle Peak to receive similar wilderness protection while leaving multiple-use options open in the lower elevations. It is a prescribed exercise of the SNRA act to do this.
    Implicit in this brouhaha is that the Boulder-White Clouds are vulnerable because of poor management by the U.S. Forest Service. If anything, the agency is over-protective, though understaffed and underfunded. There’s always room for improvement, but in most ways the SNRA is functioning just fine.
    Under the process, monument designation comes first, then the management plan. The entire deal will be renegotiated in an ideological environment much more acrimonious than when the SNRA act was created. It could mean legal/political gridlock and big changes for current users. In Montana, the Upper Missouri River Breaks area received a designation in 2001. Thirteen years later, it still has no management plan, and many of the same kinds of stakeholders we have here are at odds with the government and each other up there. In designating a monument in the Boulder-White Clouds, we could be discarding a successful recreation area with adequate protections and creating a prolonged, dysfunctional, political conflict.
    If President Obama is going to wield the monument pen, let’s point it at the Pioneers, or the Lost River Range and upper Pahsimeroi. The Pioneer core is a breathtaking geological wonder, and along with Native American, prospecting and ranching stories, the foothills are the birthplace of American destination skiing. The tourism values of a national monument in the Pioneers are nicely in synch with Sun Valley’s history and marketing potential. And because the surrounding stakeholders share more of a common cause, we will likely achieve an acceptable management plan in reasonable time.
    The SNRA act was a great bipartisan accomplishment by leaders of the 1970s: Cecil Andrus, Jim McClure, Orval Hansen, Frank Church and others. Let’s fortify, fund and enforce it, and get going with new preservation action in areas actually at risk.

    David Butterfield is a resident of Ketchum.

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