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Ketchum, Idaho 83340

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Current News & Issues: Wilderness


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The following article appeared in the Idaho Mountain Express, Ketchum, Idaho, May 18, 2005.

Blaine pares down federal land wish list. Wilderness bill to be submitted in very near future.

Idaho Mountain Express Staff Writer

Earlier this week, Blaine County pared down the wish list of federal lands it hopes to own as a result of new wilderness and economic development legislation for Central Idaho.

From the list, county commissioners dropped 206 acres in land requests for Oregon Gulch, Triumph and an area south of Magic Reservoir.

The project is a peripheral part of Rep. Mike Simpson's Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, which aims to designate wilderness in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains, as well as create an economic swell in rural Custer County. The bill should be submitted to Congress in the very near future.

Blaine County Commission Chairwoman Sarah Michael dropped the three properties from Blaine's wish list following three public hearings last month. The 11 acres at Oregon Gulch were dropped due to concern from neighbors. The 35 acres at Triumph were dropped because the "land had little utilitarian value because of wetland and avalanche issues and lack of access," Michael said.

The 160 acres south of Magic Reservoir were dropped at the request of the Hailey-based Wood River Land Trust because of its efforts to undertake habitat restoration for sage grouse on an adjacent property.

"Blaine County is modifying our federal land requests," Michael said. "We are dropping three land transfer requests and adding another parcel for gravel."

What is left are approximately 425 acres at Smiley Creek, Eagle Creek, Ohio Gulch, Glendale Road and another parcel south of Magic Reservoir. The properties are slated for various uses ranging from "growth and infrastructure needs" to land for a new transfer station and recycling center.

Michael planted the seeds for the possible land grants to Blaine County and, along with her fellow commissioners, submitted a list of 10 federally owned land parcels to Simpson's office last summer.

As part of Simpson's wilderness bill, a half-dozen properties are earmarked for transfers to Custer County and several of its inherent communities. Many residents there have long lamented the large amount of public land ownership within the county's borders.

But Michael said Blaine County should get a piece of the pie, too.

"I feel that Blaine County does have land needs," Michael said. "When Custer County was getting a share of the bill, I thought it would be useful for us to identify some of our specific needs we knew were out there."

Simpson's chief of staff, Lindsay Slater, said it was very important for the county commissioners to host public meetings about the county's wish list.

"We want to make sure that those who live adjacent to or nearby the proposed properties have the opportunities to comment to the commissioners or the congressman," he said. "From the beginning of this process, it's been incumbent on Sarah Michael to ensure that there is no legitimate controversy over these proposed lands.

"At this point, it appears she has been very responsive to public concerns."

Slater said that when the CIEDRA bill is submitted to Congress, a map outlining land gifts will be referenced. In the next few months, that map will actually be created and added to the proposed legislation.

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