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For the week of May 23 through May 29, 2001

Brainstorming nature

Wildlands’ future debated by ICL

Express Staff Writer

If there was one thing the 200 or so people gathered for the Idaho Conservation League’s annual Wild Idaho! conference could agree on, it was the words anonymously scratched into the dirt outside Redfish Lake Lodge: "We love Earth. Yeah."

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, tells members of the Idaho Conservation League, "Our differences are far fewer than what our public reactions would have us believe." Simpson promoted President Bush’s energy plan to the group Sunday at Redfish Lake. Express photo by Travis Purser

To discuss the changing landscape of public lands, experts, activists, students and supporters gathered Friday through Sunday at the picturesque mountain lake, 55 miles north of Ketchum.

Each day was packed with slide shows and talks by speakers, who included Josh Burnim, the Moscow conservationist who is hiking from Redfish to British Columbia to promote the preservation of wildlife migration areas. Gloria Flora, an ex-U.S. Forest Service supervisor who said she was forced out of her job in Nevada by "fed bashers," spoke at length on why change is the most important feature on Earth.

But the conservation group’s conference was also about having fun. Hikes, informal music jam sessions in the evenings and fundraising auctions were part of the three-day agenda. Objects donated for sale included manufactured items, but it was arguable that homemade pieces, such as the "Pipe-Tailed Snake-Bird" sculpture made from a small engine muffler, drew the most fervent bidding.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, caused a stir when he promoted President Bush’s energy policy to the group Sunday morning. It was the third year in a row he addressed conference participants.

Simpson said Republicans and Democrats both want to preserve the natural landscape ¾ they just disagree about how to do it.

"You can be a conservative, you can be a conservationist, you can be a Republican, you can be a Mormon—all at the same time," he said. "Kind of strange, but it’s true."

Simpson raised hackles when he said nuclear energy provides the "biggest bang for the smallest impact to the environment," because the power plants are small and don’t pollute the air.

He said the United States should commit to building more nuclear-powered plants—and will—even though safe disposal of radioactive waste is still a problem. He said he has faith researchers will solve the problem, just as those in the space program in the 1960s committed to reaching the moon, and had faith they could do it even before they knew how.

Simpson then literally tipped his hat to a man who yelled, "They didn’t send a guy to the moon before they knew how to get him back."

As for hydropower production of electricity, he said probably not many more dams would be built, and even a few would be dismantled. The group applauded. But, he said, legislators would not make those decisions based solely on public outcry about endangered salmon or other problems associated with dams.

"Public opinion is a fickle thing to make public policy on," he said. "You don’t make public policy based on public opinion alone, [though] it is a factor."

Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael asked Simpson about the status of proposed legislation that would turn the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains into a designated wilderness area. The designation would make illegal all mechanized transportation.

"It’s something [Congress has] been working on," he said. "I can tell you, there’s not a lot of trust out there. There’s a lot of [all-terrain-vehicle enthusiasts and ranchers] saying [close] the Boulder-White Clouds today, something else tomorrow, then we’re just gone."

Josh Burnim

The difference in point of view between Simpson and others at the conference was also apparent in his comments linking the environment and the economy.

"The biggest threat to the environment is a weak and declining economy," he said, because, for example, when it comes down to "people versus fish, fish are going to lose."

However, ex-forest supervisor Flora, speaking the day before, said, "A thriving environment will give us a thriving economy. A thriving economy will not necessarily give us a thriving environment."

Flora, who resigned from the Forest Service in 1999 amid what she described as widespread ill treatment of anyone who defended federal environmental protection laws, has spent her time since then promoting conservation. Members of the Idaho Conservation League, which often has had an antagonistic relationship with the Forest Service, consider Flora somewhat of a defector.

When people in the Forest Service "are trying to do the right thing," she told the group, "it certainly is wonderful having people out there trying to do the same thing."


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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.