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Current News & Issues: Wilderness


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The following article appeared in the Idaho Mountain Express, Ketchum, Idaho, May 4, 2005.

Wilderness opposition festers. Simpson office urges critics to wait for new draft.

Idaho Mountain Express Staff Writer

Three Custer County men last month helped to orchestrate new protests against wilderness designation in central Idaho's Boulder and White Cloud mountains.

It was just the most recent round of opposition to surface over Rep. Mike Simpson's proposed Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act. Critical reviews have come from wildlife advocates, environmental groups, motorized-recreation advocates and hard-line wilderness proponents.

For their effort, the three Custer County men mailed letters to 1,800 residents in the county, urging them to mail their own comments on Simpson's wilderness and economic development blueprint to the Custer County Commission. Form letters stating opposition to the proposed legislation and addressed envelopes were included.

"We are writing you today because we need your help to stop legislation that if enacted will have dramatic effects upon the lives of Custer County's residents," the three men wrote. "Its short-term effects could be a windfall for the county's economy, but is it worth the long-term price you, your children, and your children's children will pay?"

The letter concluded: "Our conclusion after carefully studying CIEDRA is that it is the wrong bill at the wrong time for Custer County. Remember, wilderness is forever so take the time to get involved. Act today. Tomorrow may be too late."

The letter was signed by Salmon River Snowmobile Club President Dan Hammerbeck, as well as by fellow Custer County residents Allan Getty and Howard Rosenkrance.

According to the Challis Messenger newspaper, the letters resulted in another 155 letters that showed up at the county courthouse for the county commissioners' consideration. A majority of the letters stated that the wilderness is fundamentally the wrong answer. Some supported more wilderness but opposed the bill because of proposed land gifts. A few others opposed motorized access to the Boulder and White Cloud mountains.

Commissioners, however, did not waiver in their support of the bill, according to the Messenger.

And the message from Simpson's office was equally clear: It's too early to criticize the legislation.

"It's the same criticisms we've heard all along," said Lindsay Slater, Simpson's chief of staff. "We wish people would wait until we release the new bill before they criticize us."

Slater said the new version of the bill will be different from what was released late last fall.

"It's more easily understandable," he said. "It's easier to see the assurances we've made are contained in the bill."

Slater said the bill is being redrafted.

"We hope to have it within two weeks," he said. "Once we receive it, we expect to introduce it within a week."

Criticism of the proposed legislation has also come from the opposite side of the political spectrum. The Northern Rockies Chapter of the Sierra Club issued a 12-page argument against Simpson's bill.

"Representative Simpson's proposal for Idaho's Boulder-White Clouds falls short," it states, "harming the very ecosystem it intends to protect while wounding the Wilderness Act on its 40th anniversary with environmentally destructive precedents."

The document goes on to specifically criticize proposed land gifts, proposed wilderness boundaries and the proposal to deny water rights to the designated wilderness.

Strong opposition has also come from proponents of the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, now called the Rockies Prosperity Act, as well as from a group of Stanley-area residents who oppose the privatization of federal land in and around Stanley.

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