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Current News & Issues: Wilderness


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Post Register editorial board members are Roger Plothow, publisher; J. Robb Brady, publisher emeritus; Marty Trillhaase, Opinions page editor; and Dean Miller, managing editor.


Idaho's changing voice,


October 2, 2005
Editorial by Marty Trillhaase
Idaho Falls Post-Register

For more than two decades, the mantra throughout much of the Idaho political landscape was: not one more acre for wilderness.

But times are changing. Congressman Mike Simpson's attempt to create a Boulder-White Clouds wilderness area has support across the Idaho political spectrum. Indeed, you have to wonder why any Idaho politician would want to block its success.

So says a new poll. Commissioned by the Idaho Conservation League, it was conducted by Republican pollster Bob Moore.

Idahoans support the Simpson bill 59 percent to 25 percent.

That goes for Republicans (61 percent support it), Democrats (63 percent) and independents (51 percent).

Moore cautioned against over-generalizing. Support for Simpson's specific bill does not translate into a public embrace of more wilderness in the abstract.

Idahoans have an inflated idea about how much of the state is designated for wilderness, which puts development, road-building and other activities off-limits. When they realize that only 7 percent is part of the national wilderness system, attitudes change. About 40 percent say it's about right and 46 percent say it's not enough.

Instead, the poll suggests Simpson's multi-faceted approach is working. It's been 25 years since the last Idaho wilderness bill passed, and many of the failures since 1980 have focused on acres, not locations, communities and people.

Simpson has struck a balance: some land and money for Custer County, buy-outs for public lands grazing, access for motorized and snowmobile enthusiasts.

Moore's poll adds it up this way:

  • Size -- 69 percent like idea of adding 300,000 acres.

  • Grazing -- 70 percent support helping ranchers either by continuing grazing in the area or buying out their grazing allotments.

  • Tourism -- 72 percent believe the Boulder-White Clouds wilderness will benefit Custer County's economy.

  • Restrictions -- 57 percent sign off on the idea of banning some cross-country skiing and snowmobiling to protect mountain-goat habitat.

  • Motorized access -- A plurality, 47 percent, say it's OK to keep routes such as Germania Creek open.

  • Land and money trades -- A plurality, again 47 percent, agree with giving local governments about 2,000 acres from the Bureau of Land Management and about $8 million for economic development.

  • Sawtooth land swaps -- Here's where support breaks down. A majority -- 51 percent -- opposes trading 162 acres of Sawtooth National Recreation Area land surrounding Stanley to that city and Custer County.

The point of the poll is that overall, Idahoans seem willing to make some trade-offs -- accepting the Sawtooth land swap and some motorized access in exchange for protecting 300,000 acres in central Idaho.

From that, you can glean a couple of messages.

Half of Idaho's congressional delegation -- Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Rep. Butch Otter, R-Idaho -- built reputations resisting federal authority. But there's a new voice coming from their constituency. This isn't Washington imposing its will on Idaho. It's Idahoans crafting their own solutions.

And House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif., ought to reconsider suggesting that Simpson's bill be combined with another Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, is developing to protect the Owyhee Canyonlands. Simpson's bill is here now -- and it has concrete support.

Waiting for Crapo's bill is not what Idahoans want.


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