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Friday ó January 30, 2004


Business owners voice wilderness support

135 letters for protection
Boulder-White Clouds mailed

"The worldís population is doubling in the life expectancy of one person. Itís our obligation to do what we can to protect wild areas in Idaho."

ó ERIK BOE, Financial consultant with A.G. Edwards

Express Staff Writer

In Central Idaho, where a significant part of the regionís economic engine is driven by tourism, many business owners are rallying behind wilderness designation for the Boulder and White Cloud mountains.

Potential wilderness designation in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains received additional support this week when business owners from throughout Idaho sent letters to Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, urging protection of the region as wildereness. A.G. Edwards Financial Consultant Erik Boe, left, and Ketchum photographer Steve Snyder were among those supporting the congressmanís effort. Express photos by David N. Seelig

By Tuesday morning, 135 business owners from throughout Idaho had signed letters of support for wilderness designation in the two mountain ranges. The Idaho Conservation League, which is coordinating the drive, planned to send the letters to the congressman Thursday afternoon.

"People just want to make sure he knows this support is here," said Kathryn Goldman, ICL conservation associate. "People are really jazzed about being a part of it, so it has just kind of built on itself."

According to the numbers, wildlands do generate money.

According to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, wildlife-based recreation in the state generates more than $1 billion annually. That hefty revenue stream includes hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing, which increased 63 percent between 1980 and 1995.

The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that consumers spent $40 million on outdoor equipment, not including skiing, snowboarding or motorized equipment, in Idaho in 2001.

According to the Outdoor Industry Foundation, Idaho ranks third nationally in the number of participants in non-motorized outdoor activities, with 306,256 participants, or 31.6 percent of the stateís population.

"Sales of athletic and outdoor merchandise for the human-powered outdoor recreation industry are holding steady even during difficult economic times," said Andy Munter, co-owner of Backwoods Mountain Sports in Ketchum. "Protecting wilderness is an important component of an economic strategy that will lead to a more diverse, more stable and more prosperous local economy and a brighter future for Idaho children."

A handful of local business leaders gathered at Thomas Mengelsenís Images of Nature gallery in Ketchum on Thursday, Jan. 29, to trumpet the boons of wilderness.

"Wilderness is good for business," said Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Carol Waller. "This is a resort, tourism economy. It is driven by people who come to enjoy what we have to offer. We have the wilderness, which is what draws people."

Designation of more wilderness can only help, Waller said.

At issue are roughly 500,000 acres of contiguous, road-free wildlands stretching between Ketchum and the Custer County cities of Stanley and Challis. Since issuing a pledge in 1999 to work on a wilderness bill for the Boulder and White Cloud mountains, Simpson has been testing the political waters and working to draft a bill he can release for public review.

According to Lindsay Slater, Simpsonís chief of staff, the congressmanís proposal will not include the total road-free acreage, but will be designed to appeal to a wide array of interest groups.

Idaho business owners who wrote Simpson this week want to make sure he knows the effort has their support.

"I urge him to support the Idaho Conservation Leagueís Boulder White Clouds designation," said Chris Williams, owner of Williams Market in Ketchum. "It is important to protect the Boulder-White Clouds, protect our quality of life, protect our businesses and, most importantly, protect this special place in Idaho for future generations."

Erik Boe, a financial consultant with A.G. Edwards, said it is important for people to realize that individual small efforts can help accomplish large goals.

"Everybodyís got to give a little bit," he said. "If everybody gives a little, we all gain a lot."

Boe, also an avid mountain biker, said he is willing to give up his rides in the White Cloud Mountains in exchange for increased protection of the land.

"I believe that designating the Boulder-White Cloud area as wilderness can translate directly into a healthier economic and ecological union for the people and critters of Blaine and Custer counties," he said. "Wilderness draws people to our area, and we should all be proud to support protection of the Boulder-White Clouds."

Williams said he is always excited to give Wood River Valley visitors directions to nearby wild places.

"I am always thrilled to oblige these new visitors, and I am literally beside myself with excitement knowing that these new visitors to my state are about to embark on an experience so unique that they will never forget it and quite likely be back to experience it again," Williams said.

According to Goldman, business owners from throughout the state have signed on to support wilderness designation in the region. About 40 percent of the letters ICL has collected are from Wood River Valley businesses. Others come from Stanley, Idaho Falls, Pocatello and Sandpoint, to name a few.

"Itís taken a little while to build momentum," Goldman said. "Most are busy people running small businesses, but it continues to build momentum."

Ketchum photographer Steve Snyder said he has not yet become formally engaged in the drive for more wilderness. However, he said designation of the Boulder and White Cloud mountains is important.

"The primal silence really gets into this emotional spirit of me when Iím out taking pictures in these places," he said. "Itís a place to reconnect, a place to hear myself think. And when I hear myself think, I can opt to turn it off."

Snyder, whose black-and-white photos feature many of Idahoís wild places, said his customers donít generally connect wilderness designation with the photos they are buying. He said it is up to him to tell his customers why those photos are possible.

"My reason for supporting this is pretty simple," Boe said. "The worldís population is doubling in the life expectancy of one person. Itís our obligation to do what we can to protect wild areas in Idaho."



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