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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, June 23, 2004


Wilderness proposal released

Congressman to host town hall meetings

Express Staff Writer

If things go according to plan, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, will submit potential wilderness legislation for the Boulder and White Cloud mountains to Congress by the end of July.

In the meantime, he said he wants to hear from the public about an 11-page "framework" that outlines his proposals for a wilderness, economic development and motorized recreation package that would center on Custer county and the two Central Idaho mountain ranges.

Simpson released the framework on Friday, June 18. An associated map was posted to his Web site on Tuesday, June 22.

The so-called Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act proposal features potential designation of three separate wilderness areas, opening and closing of trails, construction of a paved bicycle path and federal land transfers to Custer County, among a myriad of other considerations.

It would also give $1 million in the Idaho Off Road Motor Vehicle Program and convey federal properties to the state of Idaho to be administered as campgrounds, recreation facilities and as access points to federal land. It would create a Boulder-White Clouds Recreation Management Area, which would include all lands not designated as wilderness.

Simpson said the document is a starting point for public consideration and is not a finished product. The concepts will be refined over the summer following public meetings and a public comment period.

"Iíll be able to comment a lot better after those meetings," he said.

In a Tuesday interview, Simpson said he has been working on the prospect of a wilderness bill in the Boulder and White Cloud mountain ranges since he was first elected in 1999. In the spring of that year, he announced at a gathering of conservationists in the Sawtooth Valley that he would work on the issue.

"As I met with different people and talked about the problems they have, the problems the ranchers are having in the area, the problems the county commissioners are having, it really began to gel," he said. "It became apparent that maybe we could put together a plan that is comprehensive to try to address a variety of problems in the area."

The document is broken into five distinct parts, but the most substantive material appears in sections about wilderness designation, property transfers and motorized trail access.

The proposal would designate three wilderness areas, totaling between 250,000 and 300,000 acres in all. They would be called the Boulder Wilderness Area, White Cloud Wilderness Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Area. The latter would be managed by the Bureau of Land Management, while the U.S. Forest Service would manage the Boulder and White Cloud wilderness areas.

Corridors of motorized trail access would divide the wilderness areas, including a controversial east-to-west motorized corridor from Pole Creek through Germania Creek.

Along with the designation of three new wilderness areas, all other Wilderness Study Area lands contained in the two mountain ranges would be released. Congress designated the Wilderness Study Area in 1972 when the Sawtooth National Recreation Area was established.

Simpson also has proposed a number of tactics for economic development in Custer County, including the transfer of federal land to Custer County to be sold for development.

SNRA land west of Stanley and adjacent to Highway 21 would be conveyed to Custer County. After its subdivision, Simpson estimates the land could be worth between $6 million and $10 million.

Another 1,000 acres of Challis National Forest lands would be transferred to Custer County.

Other "small miscellaneous" properties would be transferred to Custer County or private landowners to clean up conflicts with the BLM and Forest Service.

Other small properties would be transferred to Custer County and the State of Idaho to be used for recreation and tourism development.

Another part of the economic development package would be construction of a paved bicycle path and winter snowmobile trail connecting Stanley with Redfish Lake.

Also, ranchers impacted by the wilderness designation would be allowed to voluntarily retire their public land grazing privileges.

Finally, the proposal would reopen the Champion Lakes Trail to two-wheel motorized access, and it would create a new motorized trail connecting Phyllis Lake to the Washington Basin Trail. The proposal lists a number of existing motorized trails that would remain open to motorized and mechanized access.

"I have to say that Iíve been very impressed with all of the different user groups that have really stayed together on talking about all of this," Simpson said. "The challenge has been keeping them together and trying to mediate the concerns of many different users and views on management in the Boulder-White Clouds.

"This same proposal probably would not have been feasible 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago. But the time has come where most of them have realized we need to resolve some of these problems.

"The alternative is to do nothing and have a lot of these issues unresolved," he said. "I think that if we are unable to resolve this now, I doubt anyone will try it again for the next 20 years."

Town hall meetings:

Rep. Mike Simpson announced that he will hold three town hall meetings in July to discuss the proposed framework for a possible Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA).

  • Ketchum, July 1, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., American Legion Hall. The focus at this meeting is on the wilderness component of CIEDRA.

  • Stanley, July 1, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Stanley School. The focus at this meeting is the recreation component of CIEDRA.

  • Challis, July 2, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., Challis High School. The focus at this meeting is the economic development component of CIEDRA.

Information is available online at www.house.gov/simpson. E-mail comments there or write to Rep. Mike Simpson, 802 West Bannock Street, Suite 600, Boise, ID 83702.


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