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Current News & Issues: Wilderness


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“Simpson’s SNRA land trades [transfers] are a bad bargain” – Guest Opinion by Evelyn Phillips.

Simpson’s SNRA land trades are a bad bargain

By Evelyn Phillips, Hailey Idaho

Guest Opinion, Mountain Express newspaper, Ketchum Idaho

I want to speak up about the proposed Central Idaho wilderness bill that Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, is going to present to Congress, and specifically about his proposed trade of federal land within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

To make wilderness designation of the Boulder-White Cloud mountains more palatable to some, Simpson wants to open up land to private development including a 162-acres parcel that sits above Stanley.

A narrow-mined editorial last week in the Wood River Journal took issue with a bunch of NIMBYs (not in my backyard) who are protesting such a trade, stating that this small group of Stanley residents, some of them current or retired state and federal land natural resource managers, wants to keep Custer County from making any money off the wilderness deal.

This editorial contends that these residents cite “potential impact on the Stanley Basin elk herds”, but really want to put up a gate and prevent anyone else from enjoying the beautiful views they have.

How ridiculous! I am protesting this land trade and I live in Hailey. I’m not even going to bring up the elk issue; the point is that we’re talking about land that was designated a national recreation area precisely to prevent the kind of development this trade would allow.

The same editorial went on to conclude that if such a trade is not forthcoming “the region is likely to remain a remote playground except for the publicly employed land managers who live there.”

What nonsense is this? The “region” happens to be the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, created in 1972 by an act of Congress with a mandate to protect the scenic and recreational values for everyone. It has been a playground for me since I moved here in the 1970s and I have never felt excluded from any part of it.

When I first moved here in 1972 as a young reporter, I had the Forest Service and the newly designated SNRA as my beat. The managers then, and Tom Kovalicky especially, spent time explaining to me the importance of preserving these recreational and scenic values, and a lot of money was spent to purchase development rights from ranchers in the Stanley Basin and Sawtooth Valley.

To reverse this process now is extremely shortsighted and selfish. How can such a land trade benefit anybody but a bunch of land developers and those with the kind of money that those lots will sell for?

I understand there are wetland and wildlife concerns, too. But even more important is the legacy that we should be leaving to the future of Stanley.

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