By Steve Benson
Blaine County ponders wilderness bill. Commissioners will announce
official position on Simpson's bill Thursday
October 19, 2005
Idaho Mountain Express
Conservationists are squabbling with conservationists, Custer County is
supporting wilderness, and Blaine County doesn't yet know what it wants.
It may seem like the world's gone mad, but it's a simple reaction to one
of the most complex, compromise-ridden wilderness bills to ever go before
Thursday, exactly a week before Congress hears Rep. Mike Simpson's Central
Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA), the Blaine County
Commissioners will announce whether they support or oppose the bill.
"It's important to have the support of all the communities involved," said
Lindsay Slater, Simpson's chief of staff. "Having the commissioners'
support is a good indicator."
Simpson's bill proposes the designation of 300,011 acres of wilderness in
three units in the Boulder-White Clouds, but at a cost to wilderness
advocates. In exchange, generally anti-wilderness, pro-public access
Custer County will receive federal land for development, motorized
corridor's between the wilderness areas, and various appropriations to
revive the county's struggling economy. Custer County is poised to receive
2,000 to 3,000 acres of federal land and $5 million in appropriations with
passage of the bill.
Meanwhile, typically pro-wilderness, anti-access Blaine County is slated
to receive about 440 acres of federal land for public infrastructure
projects, including a fire station in Smiley Creek, 40 miles north of
The Blaine County Commissioners will announce their official position on
the bill Thursday at 4 p.m. during a public meeting at the old Blaine
County Courthouse in Hailey. Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman said
his decision will be based on "what's best for Blaine County." He added
that a public hearing in Hailey last Thursday will weigh heavily on his
That hearing, which drew approximately 50 citizens and lasted close to
four hours, showcased old friends who now find themselves on opposite
sides of the wilderness debate.
A group calling itself the Committee to Save the Sawtooth National
Recreation Area spoke against Simpson's bill, claiming it concedes too
much federal land to Custer County for development; doesn't include enough
wilderness acreage; leaves sections of the SNRA vulnerable to reduced
protection; and paves the way for increased motorized access in the
Support for the bill came from the Idaho Conservation League, the
Boulder-White Clouds Council, the Wilderness Society and nine of the 17
citizens who spoke at the hearing. Proponents of the bill acknowledged
there are aspects that are tough to swallow, but compromise is a
"I think this is the best chance we'll get and we should go for it." Lynn
Stone, executive director of the Boulder-White Clouds Council, told the
Blaine County Commissioners at the hearing.
Linn Kincannon, the Idaho Conservation League's central Idaho director,
displayed a chart to the commissioners indicating motorized recreational
use in Idaho is sky rocketing. In 2004, there were over 91,000 off-highway
vehicle registrations issued in Idaho, compared with just 2,700 in 1973.
Under Simpson's bill, no new motorized trails will be built, and a couple
will be closed. But Kaz Thea, a member of Save the SNRA, feels CIEDRA,
with its concessions to the motorized community, will draw unwanted
attention and spark additional motorized use. She noted that 45 percent of
the proposed wilderness will be within one mile of a motorized trail.
"What does this bill do to slow or stop (motorized use) in the
Boulder-White Clouds?" Thea asked. "We should not support a bill that
supports motorized use ... I argue that this will be way worse than
Sarah Michael, chair of the Blaine County Commission, is also discouraged
by the motor-friendly aspects of the bill. But Michael doesn't believe
that another bill with less compromise can pass in the future. The Custer
County Commissioners feel they should have been granted additional
motorized access in the bill.
"Any bill that's going to go through Congress will have to be a
compromise" Michael said. And in the future "it's going to get harder and
harder to find a compromise.
"We have environmental groups split and a motorized community in
opposition despite the concessions. It's not going to get any easier and I
think Simpson needs to be commended for his effort on this. If the bill is
defeated, it will take a lot of work to get the energy going again."
While Michael has stated that she is in support of the bill, she does not
know how the rest of the commissioners will vote on Thursday.
As for Simpson's bill first appearance before Congress, the House
Resources subcommittee hearing will begin at 2 p.m. Oct. 27, and last
about an hour and a half. At that time testimony will be heard from two
Democrats and four Republicans, Slater said. A full congressional
committee hearing should be scheduled next month.