The following article appeared in the Idaho Mountain Express,
Ketchum, Idaho, March 23, 2005. View the original article online at
Stanley residents oppose land gifts for wilderness – wildlife habitat,
natural areas cited as important resources.
By GREG STAHL
Idaho Mountain Express Staff Writer
Some of the lowlands along Valley Creek are
earmarked for transfer from the federal government to the city of
Stanley. Year in and year out, as winter settles over Central Idaho,
elk migrate to the area to weather the cold and snow. Express photo by
For a grassroots group of Stanley-area and Sawtooth Valley residents, the
federal land in and around Stanley is too precious to give up in exchange
for wilderness in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains.
Earlier this month, they wrote a letter to Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, to
encourage the politician to consider alternatives to proposed land gifts
on the bench above the city and near the confluence of the Salmon River
with Valley Creek.
As an alternative, they proposed that state-owned land on the bench above
the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery could be sold to increase the private land base
in Custer County.
Simpson Chief of Staff Lindsay Slater said the state-owned land looked
like something he would like to look at, but he also said the land
transfers in and around Stanley would not change.
"Stanley and Custer County have come up with a nice piece of land adjacent
to the city," Slater said. "Congressman Simpson is going to go forward
with that. We're looking to help Stanley, which is why we're looking at
these adjacent lands."
Specific language in Simpson's Central Idaho Economic Development and
Recreation Act is still in flux, but a version submitted to Congress late
last year proposed to transfer federal land near Stanley from the Sawtooth
National Recreation Area to the city and to Custer County to increase the
local tax base and provide for infrastructure needs.
The gifts would increase the 308-acre city by 76 acres, a 20 percent
Slater added that another large land donation near the headwaters of the
Middle Fork of the Salmon River was scrapped, and land gifts near the
cities of Clayton, Challis and Mackay are still likely to result from the
In its 2004 form, the bill would also protect 294,100 acres of the Boulder
and White Cloud Mountains as wilderness. In all, the bill would funnel as
much as $18.25 million into rural Idaho in the form of grants, a grazing
permit buyout program and funds to purchase conservation easements.
Another estimated $9 million to $11 million in public lands, more than
2,000 acres, could be given to Central Idaho political jurisdictions.
In an interview in January, Slater said revisions to the bill would be
ongoing this winter and that the public would be afforded the opportunity
to review the changes before the bill is resubmitted to Congress this
For now, the Stanley-area residents, who call themselves Central Idahoans
for Accountability in Government, are focusing their objections on
proposed land transfers adjacent to Stanley.
"There are few views more stunning than a herd of elk against the
brilliant backdrop of the Sawtooths in winter," the letter reads. "We are
hoping that you might visit and be able to view them."
According to the group, about 80 elk wintered along Valley Creek hot
springs and on nearby uplands this winter. In hard winters, the number of
elk is double.
Both the areas around the hot springs and the bench above are earmarked
for transfer in Simpson's bill. The 86-acre sagebrush landscape on the
bench affords stunning views of the Sawtooth Mountains and the Stanley
Basin below. It is popular with mountain bikers, hikers and motorcycle
riders. In the winter, it is a snowmobile playground and an elk migration
Below, along Valley Creek, another 68 acres of land would be donated to
Stanley. In hard winters, the hot springs attract elk that browse on
grasses near the stream's edge.
"Unless modified, CIEDRA would profoundly and irrevocably damage important
wildlife, botanical and scenic values that we hold dear in the Sawtooth
country," the letter states.
CIEDRA proposes to transfer three parcels of land to Stanley and to Custer
An 8.3-acre property southwest of the city's current limit appears to be
least controversial, but it was purchased in 1989 for $341,502 for the
express purpose of stopping development. It is earmarked in CIEDRA for
Since the Sawtooth National Recreation Area was created in 1972, $55
million has been spent to purchase easements and land to protect the
rural, natural and pastoral nature of the land in the area.
The 86 acres on the bench above Stanley will be used for up to 10 homes of
no more than 3,500 square feet each. The 68 acres along Valley Creek would
be used for local housing and "other public purposes such as, but not
limited to, a park, community center or educational facility."
As an alternative, the group has proposed that Simpson look at 64 lots
encompassing about 70 acres on the bench above the state fish hatchery. It
remains to be seen whether the proposal will gain any traction.
They group concluded:
"While we support the protection of the Boulder-White Clouds, this should
not come at the expense of ruining wildlife habitat and other priceless
public lands in the SNRA and elsewhere."