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Current News & Issues: Wilderness


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The following article appeared in the Challis Messenger, April 7, 2005. View the original article online at 

CIEDRA still faces tough challenges. Group opposes Federal Land Transfers.



Some members of the group opposed to the transfer of Sawtooth National Recreation Area lands near Stanley toured the parcels in March. They’re concerned the land will be developed under CIEDRA. Gary Gadwa points out an 86-acre parcel on the bench above Valley Creek, which would be transferred to Custer County if the bill passes Congress. Also pictured are Nancy Williams, Dave Kimpton, Hans Buhler, Lynne Stone, Lotte Buhler and Kathleen Turner, a reporter for the Wood River Journal.
Todd Adams photo

A group of Stanley-area and Blaine County residents remains opposed to the transfer of any federal land to Custer County or the City of Stanley under Rep. Mike Simpson’s Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA).

The group argues this would set a dangerous precedent and development of the land would harm critical elk winter range and other wildlife habitat.

The group, known as Central Idahoans for Accountability in Government, opposes the transfer of three parcels or a total of 162.3 acres of Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA) land adjacent to the City of Stanley to Custer County (86 acres) and to the city (76.3 acres).

The group says adjacent landowners were not notified of the proposed transfers.

Some in the group say they’re willing to give up designation of 294,100 acres of wilderness in the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains if it means developing the 162 acres near Stanley.

They and numerous environmental groups don’t want CIEDRA to pass in its current form. They want more wilderness designated and no motorized use allowed in the area.

The land transfers
Stanley Parcel A, known as the Benner Street parcel, is 8.3 acres in size and was purchased by the SNRA in 1989 for $341,502 to prevent development, according to the group. It is located along Benner Street south of Highway 21 on the west edge of town. Four homes of not more than 3,000 square feet may be developed on the parcel.

Stanley Parcel C, known as the Valley Creek, hot springs or sewer pond parcel, is 68 acres adjacent the Stanley Museum and Stanley Sawtooth Estates and is just north of Highway 75 between Stanley and Lower Stanley. The group says it is prime wildlife habitat, including critical elk winter range.

Parcel C is proposed for housing and municipal development “such as but not limited to a park, cemetery, community center or educational facility.” That is to be decided by a commission of one Stanley and one county official and three citizens who reside within the SNRA boundaries.

Custer County Parcel B is 86 acres on a bench above Valley Creek uphill and west of the Stanley Museum. It is an elk migration corridor and critical elk winter range, according to the group. Up to 10 homes of no more than 3,500 square feet may be developed on Parcel B.

Another 180 acres near Mackay Reservoir and 640 acres of land south of Challis would be transferred to the county to add to its tax base.

The tour
Seven members of the group invited the media along on a tour of the two parcels near Valley Creek on March 17.

The group has been circulating petitions in the Stanley and Wood River Valley areas since CIEDRA was first introduced into Congress last fall and the land transfers were detailed.

After the group objected to transferring 960 acres in the Cape Horn area to Custer County, that parcel was withdrawn.

The group sent a letter to Simpson March 10 objecting to the transfer of the three Stanley-area parcels, but the congressman’s staff said there are no plans to scrap the transfer. Sixteen Stanley-area residents and two Ketchum residents signed it.

Dave Kimpton, a retired Stanley ranger for the SNRA, said the group is made up of “diverse” people who don’t always agree. But he said all are united against transferring SNRA lands into county, city or private hands, and all want to protect the elk winter range on the Stanley-area parcels from development.

Three of the group who attended the March 17 tour own homes adjacent to the two Valley Creek parcels. Gary Gadwa and Hans and Lotte Buhler say none of the Valley Creek landowners were involved in negotiations between Simpson’s staff and Stanley and county officials on the land transfers until after the proposal had been written into CIEDRA.

The landowners say they bought their Valley Creek lots fully expecting the adjacent parcels to remain undeveloped SNRA land.

Elk winter range
Custer County Commissioner Cliff Hansen, a lifelong rancher and resident of the Sawtooth Valley and Challis, disagrees that the Valley Creek parcels are in historic elk winter range.

“I can tell you that’s not elk winter range,” Hansen said, adding there’s not enough natural feed there most winters. He said elk didn’t start wintering in the area until the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and citizens started feeding the elk.

“I guess these people are opposed to any development in Stanley,” Hansen said. “We’re talking so few acres” on the Valley Creek parcels, Hansen said, compared to the number of private acres purchased by the SNRA and taken off county tax rolls.

Gary Gadwa said he’s done wildlife research back to the Lewis and Clark expedition. In the early 1830s, John Work of the Hudson’s Bay Company explored the area’s beaver-trapping potential. Gadwa said Work’s journals documented wintering caribou and elk in the Sawtooth Valley, including at the hot springs along Valley Creek.

Later, from the 1860s to 1880s, the local elk and caribou herds were extirpated to feed up to 2,500 miners in the Sawtooth Valley, said Gadwa. Prior to that, elk were here in great numbers, Gadwa said.

In the early 1900s, the Fish and Game department and sportsmen’s groups reintroduced elk, Gadwa said.

The Valley Creek area is not good elk winter range in Gadwa’s opinion, but he says it is critical elk winter range, meaning it can make the slim difference between survival and starvation for area elk under severe conditions.

Gadwa, who is a conservation officer for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said he is not speaking for the department but as a resident of the Stanley area since the late 1970s and a Valley Creek landowner since 1983.

The Fish and Game department says elk feeding by private individuals and the department has affected elk migrations, Gadwa said.

Hansen is right that elk may not belong here in their current winter numbers, Gadwa said. He said about 80 to 150 elk have wintered in the area.

The parcel adjacent to Valley Creek is the most critical for elk, said Gadwa. Since the old city sewer ponds were reclaimed, elk have taken to grazing and browsing on the old sewer pond flats.

Gadwa said during the March 17 tour that the elk are here, need to be protected and continue to be enjoyed by thousands of peole. There will be more elk-human conflict if the elk winter range is developed, he said.

Alternative site
Kimpton, the SNRA’s former Stanley ranger, suggested Stanley and Custer County officials consider an alternate site for the land transfers.

He said a state school section on which the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery sits, about six miles south of Stanley along Highway 75, is a better choice.

Across the Salmon River from the hatchery are two platted subdivisions, Stanley Basin Cabin Sites No. 1 and No. 2, the first of which has been developed.

Kimpton estimates another 60 homes could be built there. The existing homes have road access and new development could tie in to the new sewer lagoons near the Stanley Ranger Station, Kimpton said.

The homes sit among pine trees on a glacial moraine overlooking the Salmon River and new development would not harm salmon or elk habitat, Kimpton said. However, if this option is adopted, the current residents should be notified, unlike the Valley Creek residents, the group said.

Perry Whitaker, real estate bureau chief for the Idaho Department of Lands, told The Challis Messenger March 28 that the existing homes are all privately owned, but the state has never sold Stanley Basin Cabin Sites No. 2. The department and land board has not yet made a decision on whether to sell or exchange the second subdivision for private development, Whitaker said. There are no immediate plans to dispose of it, he said.

The land would be sold at market value to benefit the state’s school endowment fund, he said.

Hansen pointed out that because it’s state land, the alternative site cannot be written into CIEDRA, a congressional bill. Hansen, whose ranch is near the hatchery, said he didn’t have a problem with that area, which he knows as the Buckhorn Cabin Sites, from being developed.

Elk feed along Valley Creek just near the Stanley city limits. Under U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson’s CIEDRA bill, this federal land would be transferred to the City of Stanley and could be developed. Photo courtesy of Central Idahoans for Accountability in Government.

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