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Current News & Issues: Wilderness


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This article appeared in the October 14, 2005 edition of the Times-News.


Simpson's wilderness plan: Divide and conquer or wise compromise?


October 14, 2005
Twin-Falls Times News

HAILEY -- Blaine County Commissioners Sarah Michael and Tom Bowman attracted a crowd at the courthouse Thursday as they heard public comment about Rep. Mike Simpson's Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA) intended to go before the House Resources Committee Oct. 26.

The bill proposes dividing 300,000 acres into 73,100 acres of Boulder White Clouds Wilderness, 96,700 acres of Hemingway Wilderness and 131,700 acres of Jerry Peak Wilderness. The bill also proposes changes to some trails regarding motorized use.

Normally on the same side of the fence, the Idaho Conservation League and the Sierra Club stood divided on the bill, with conservationists lining up behind them on both sides.

Lindsay Slater began with an explanation of the give and take involved in arriving at the bill in its current form. He said Custer County, which will be most affected by the bill, needed to buy into the process. He said Simpson was working to help the county create substantive wilderness, provide grants for an increased tax base and work on some land transfers for city housing and parks.

Slater then addressed the controversial 160-acre land transfer to the county. Land adjacent to the town of Stanley would be given to the county to sell as homesites on the edge of town and for affordable housing and a park in the center of town. Many are concerned about wildlife corridors that run through the land. Others are concerned about building new housing in town, yet in summer, workers are forced to camp out there with no affordable options.

Slater also addressed the motorized use areas. He said they were trying to serve everyone and that this had been the "root cause of why this didn't happen 20 years ago." He also stated that the goal was to try to maintain as close to the status quo as possible.

"It's hard. Mike and I feel this is the last, best chance," Slater concluded.

Linn Kincannon then spoke for the Idaho Conservation League.

"It's hard to disagree with friends," Kincannon said, adding that all were hear because they cared deeply about wilderness areas.

"It's tempting to wait for the Rockies Prosperity Act," Kincannon stated, adding, "We can't wait for passage of that act to protect the area."

Kincannon then hit the high points, noting that the bill would protect 300,000 acres of wilderness and that ranchers can leave high wilderness cow-free. She held up a graph that indicated a huge spike in Idaho off-highway motorbike and ATV registration and noted that the motorized community was strong.

"There is a lot to celebrate in this bill. It's not everything we want but we urge the commissioners to support this bill," Kincannon concluded.

Doug Scott, of the Wilderness Land Trust, sided with Kincannon.

"This process is about the art of the possible. This wild landscape deserves the best possible protection," Scott noted, adding that no new wilderness has been designated since Frank Church was a member of the senate.

Conservationist and activist Lynne Stone voiced her concerns over the 162 acres of land to be given to Custer County and the city of Stanley, but asked commissioners to support the bill.

"I know this is a compromise but it is our best chance. Blaine County should go for it," Stone ended.

Bernie Zaleha, an environmental attorney and National Vice President of the Sierra Club noted that his organization was on record as opposing the bill and that it was difficult to be here with friends in disagreement. He said he felt that now was not the time for compromise and asked the Commissioners not to support the bill.

Janine Blaeloch, Director of the Western Lands Project of Seattle, stated her organization felt that the land giveaways must be rejected by Blaine County calling this a "quid pro quo wilderness."

"The people of Blaine County are the caretakers of the land with regional and national significance," Blaeloch said.

George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch, also urged commissioners to oppose the bill.

"This is a carved-up compromise of wilderness surrounded by motorized use and it is not consistent with the wilderness act," Nickas claimed.

Kaz Thea, wilderness advocate and a professional biologist from Hailey, simply stated she opposed the bill as a non-motorized outdoor enthusiast. Thea noted that (with this bill) 45 percent of the wilderness areas would be less than a mile from a motorized route and that 48 percent of trails would be open to motorized travel.

Thea expressed concern regarding loss of 132,000 acres of Wilderness Study Areas would be opened up to uses inconsistent with wilderness and called this bill "way worse than status quo".

Custer County resident and Blaine County landowner Carole King said she opposed CIEDRA because she loved wilderness. She referred to a recent story from Progressive Farmer magazine that found Blaine County to be one of the top 10 places to live in rural America.

"I don't recall OVU as a part of why people wanted to live here," King said, adding, "The land cannot be all things to all people."

Rep. Wendy Jaquet stood in favor of the bill, noting the economic disparity between Custer and Blaine counties and addressing those that might be uncomfortable with the land development portion of the bill.

"If the commissioner from Custer were here he would say this is not enough," Jaquet said of the economic boost to Custer County. Jaquet noted she was working in the most Republican legislature in the United States and that small steps were sometimes the only way to make progress.

Erik Schultz, Director of the ABS Foundation of Alta, Wyo., works for wildlands conservation and disabled access to wilderness areas. Schultz praised the trails, included in the bill that would allow handicapped and senior access without assistance. Schultz noted the trails would not happen if the bill fails.

"This has the potential to become a national showpiece," Schultz said of the place he envisions as a national tourist site for handicapped wilderness enthusiasts.

Scott Phillips, a retired Forest Service employee, stated he was adamantly opposed to CIEDRA in its present form due to the crucial elk habitat traded for trophy homes. Phillips also said he did not trust Custer County to monitor the deed restrictions placed on the land being given to them, noting that there was an emphasis on motorized use in the area could "quickly go from quality to mediocrity."

Mat Filoon, a paramedic and firefighter from Ketchum, said "The way things are right now I can live with that. The positives outweigh the negatives," adding that the bill ill help support rescue services such as the one recently performed rescuing two climbers from a 300-foot ledge.

Former Blaine County Commissioner Len Harlig stated that he had been "both a foot soldier and a general in the struggle for Boulder White Clouds," and added that he spoke out of passion and conviction.

"The question facing all of us is this bill a realistic compromise or have we left too much on the table," Harlig posed, continuing that he felt this was the "best chance to get most of what we all want."

Norma Douglas, of the Wilderness Society, stood firmly in support of the bill.

"We move wilderness bills of this nation through Congress," Douglas began, adding that her organization was working in a hostile atmosphere in D.C.

"We've waited 20 years and it will be another 20 before someone else is willing to pick this up again," Douglas cautioned, continuing that she would be glad to "talk for hours" to convince anyone of that.

Jon Marvel, Executive Director of Western Watersheds, asked that commissioners neither support nor oppose the bill at this time but support a Boulder White Clouds of over 500,000 acres. Marvel said CIEDRA was "unformed and incomplete", adding that the "theft of public land by Custer County is outrageous."

Holly King felt the compromises were acceptable and voiced support for CIEDRA, as did Doug Abromeit. Abromeit said he had a great love for the Boulder White Clouds and that the fight over CIEDRA felt like a family feud.

"This builds bridges and feels more like a consensus among people of good will rather than a Sophie's Choice," Abromeit said in support.

Blaine County Commissioners will continue to take comment up to Oct. 20.

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