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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of December 3 - 9, 2003

Opinion Columns

Get back to work
on wilderness
proposal, Mike

Commentary by J. ROBB BRADY

J. Robb Brady is the former publisher and a member of the
editorial board of the Post Register in Idaho Falls.

Give Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson hurrahs for trying to reach an agreement on a Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness in central Idaho. With their captivating necklace of lakes and 150 peaks higher than 10,000 feet, the Boulder-White Clouds deserve the protection of wilderness as much as any piece of land in the United States.

It almost happened 30 years ago when the Sawtooth Wilderness was established. The idea was dropped at the last minute because mining claims in the ranges could not be resolved.

But to achieve this elusive dream, Simpson will have to set aside political distractions.

One of those distractions is the Idaho Water Users Association's anger over a threatened suit by environmentalists to secure Snake River water flows for migrating salmon. Salmon recovery has little to do with Boulder-White Cloud wilderness talks. But Simpson has elected to freeze all negotiations.

How long? Nobody knows.

The Idaho Republican congressman was well along in separate discussions with conservationists, off-road vehicle leaders, ranchers and Custer County officials. That list of conflicting interests tells you that whenever Simpson resumes the talks, he and his staff will have a lot of work ahead of them.

Here are some of the challenges facing Simpson:

  • Motorized accessWhat trails should be open outside the wilderness? In 2001, motorcyclists and snowmobiles represented only 6.1 percent of the usage in the area. So their bargaining chip isn't as big as the motorized users would like to make it. Motorized use creates constant conflicts with other users -- hikers, horse riders, hunters and fishermen, as well as the extraordinary diversity of wildlife in the region.

  • Economic developmentHow much federal assistance should Custer County receive? Initially, Simpson proposed augmenting the county's small tax base with a gift of federal lands. Reports put the amount in the range of 16,000 acres. Custer County could then sell or develop the land.

Understandably, the idea is not making headway. Giving away public lands—even in a good cause—sets a troubling precedent. What's wrong with tapping federal monies already available for economic development in struggling counties? Here's a simpler idea: Congress appropriates money to Custer County as part of the wilderness prescription.


  • RanchingWhat can be done to help ranchers deal with the cutbacks of grazing allotments in the proposed wilderness area? Conservation easement payments to those ranchers willing to trade in or reduce their grazing allotments on the public range make sense.

  • SizeHow big should the proposed wilderness be? Simpson appeared headed for a 300,000-acre plan. The Idaho Conservation League and the Boulder-White Clouds Council wanted some 500,000 acres protected. But a 250,000-acre Forest Service wilderness proposal was shot down 15 years ago. So was a similar one pressed by then-Sen. James McClure and then Gov. Cecil Andrus in the late 1980s.

Idaho is a special place because of places like the Boulder-White Clouds. Granted, this is a tough job. But Simpson has said he wants to do it. Here's hoping he resumes the negotiations soon.



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