The following article appeared in the Idaho Mountain Express,
Ketchum, Idaho, May 25, 2005. View the original article online at
Simpson stumps for wilderness bill. “It's time to get to yes”
By GREG STAHL
Idaho Mountain Express Staff Writer
Congressman Mike Simpson speaks Sunday with Idaho
Conservation League Executive Director Rick Johnson and ICL Central
Idaho Director Linn Kincannon. Simpson submitted his Central Idaho
Economic Development and Recreation Act to Congress on Thursday, May
19. On Sunday, he addressed a gathering of conservationists at Redfish
Lake Lodge. Express photo by Greg Stahl
Congressman Mike Simpson envisions a long, difficult road leading to
passage of his Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, but
he doesn't sound like a man willing to back down.
"We've been saying no to things for so long, and nothing's been done," he
said. "It's time to get to yes."
Simpson spoke on Sunday at an annual meeting of Idaho's conservation
community. The event, called Wild Idaho, is sponsored by the Idaho
Conservation League and is held each year at Redfish Lake Lodge.
The congressman submitted his wilderness and economic development bill to
his congressional colleagues on Thursday, May 19, signifying the end of
the beginning of the lawmaking process. He has been working on the bill
for six years, and he hopes the Congress will finish considering the
measure in the next calendar year.
In short, the bill would designate 300,011 acres of the Boulder and White
Cloud mountains as wilderness. It would funnel $20 million in federal
appropriations into Central Idaho. It would give federal land away to
Custer and Blaine counties, and to the cities of Stanley, Challis and
Mackay. It would transfer state land to the Sawtooth National Recreation
Area. It would create a motorized recreation park in Boise.
The bill includes something for just about everybody, and it contains
something for just about everybody not to like.
In his remarks, Simpson defended the bill and repeated a mantra he has
been uttering for nearly a year: The legislation epitomizes compromise.
But altogether, Simpson used the stage Sunday morning to make a sales
pitch to some of Idaho's leading environmentalists.
"You people have come a lot in one direction," Simpson said. "But think
about how far (people on the other side of the fence) have come. This is
not the bill any of us would write, but hopefully it's a bill that could
pass and can help everybody out."
He readily acknowledged an uphill battle in the congressional trenches.
The first tall order will be to gain approval from Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif.,
who chairs the House Resources Committee.
"It's going to be tough, there's no doubt about it," Simpson said.
"There's going to be opposition, and there's going to be opposition from
Idaho. There's still a lot of work to do, but it's worth doing."
The Idaho Conservation League's executive director, Rick Johnson, also
urged the conservation community to give Simpson's bill a long, hard look
and some serious consideration. He appeared excited about the pending,
"It's not a non-starter," Johnson said. "We are, for the first time since
Frank Church was a senator, going to have a serious discussion on
wilderness in this state."
Church sponsored legislation that created Central Idaho's Frank
Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area, the largest protected
wilderness in the contiguous United States.
And whether the citizens of Idaho agree with Simpson's proposal or not,
the congressman deserves a pat on the back for his efforts, Johnson said.
He has brought Idahoans of diverse stripes to the bargaining table, and a
piece of potential legislation resulted.
"Think about the place. Think about the future. We owe this guy a lot of
credit for what he's doing," Johnson said. "He's getting a lot of heat
from the other side. He's getting a lot of heat from us. He needs to get
And Simpson is, indeed, getting heat. Wilderness advocates and
motorized-recreation advocates alike are picking the bill apart.
A coalition of snowmobilers has waged an organized campaign against the
bill. A group of Stanley-area residents is opposing federal land gifts to
the city in the vicinity of Valley Creek. Advocates for more widespread
wilderness protection have said Simpson's bill concedes too much in the
form of federal land grants and motorized access and doesn't give enough
in the form of wilderness.
For Johnson and other environmentalists, it took some time to see the big
picture. Johnson said he has been working on protections for the Boulder
and White Cloud mountains for 20 years, but Simpson taught him the most
"We, together, have gotten to this place, and that is about people,"
Johnson said. "A lot of us got into this because of the land, because of
the wildlife, but it's actually about people. Mike Simpson taught that to
And Simpson also stressed the importance of the significant wilderness
protections in the bill. It is a selfless effort, he said.
"I'm really not doing this for you or for me. I'll be long dead and
gone—so will you—'til the real benefits of this will be seen," he said.
"We're really doing this for future generations. We want to be able to
look back and be able to say that when it was our time, that we decided to