The following article appeared in the Idaho Mountain Express for
June 2004. View the original article online at
Boulder-White Cloud plan scrutinized
Stakeholders cautiously optimistic on
Simpson's wilderness, recreation plans
By Greg Stahl, Express Staff Writer
Congressman Mike Simpson on Tuesday released a map
of proposed wilderness
boundaries for the White Cloud and Boulder mountains north of Ketchum.
green shaded areas, bisected by motorized corridors, constitute the
Idaho Second District
Congressman Mike Simpson's effort to designate wilderness in the Boulder
and White Cloud mountains received a lukewarm reception this week from
outspoken residents of Central Idaho.
To the green groups,
Simpson's Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Proposal
looks like a motorized recreation package with wilderness zones thrown
in to make it more palatable.
To the motorized groups,
the proposal looks like a wilderness bill sprinkled with a few permanent
motorcycle and mountain biking trails to try to stave off criticism.
But it's a lot more
complicated than that. Simpson's 11-page "framework," released on
Friday, June 18, includes federal land trades to Custer County and the
Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. It includes implementation of
three separate wilderness areas, congressional funding for trail
development and a voluntary grazing allotment buyout program. It also
establishes permanent motorized recreation opportunities for
motorcycles, ATVs and snowmobiles.
It closes some trails to
motorized uses by including them in the proposed wilderness areas.
"During the past year, we
have met with various groups that would be impacted by possible
legislation, including Custer County's past and present commissioners,
ranchers, snowmobilers, off-road-vehicle users, outfitters,
conservationists and others," Simpson said. "This framework represents
our best efforts at finding a positive, reasonable outcome for the
management of the Boulder-White Clouds that benefits all users."
But in trying to please
everyone, Simpson might alienate everyone, skeptics said this week.
"It seems to be slanted
pretty hard toward the motorized users. It's pretty much crafted to try
to please everybody, and, probably, it won't please anybody," said Scott
Stouder, western field director for Trout Unlimited. "It could be a lot
better. There are some good things about it, but basically, it's real
shy on roadless acreage."
Simpson agreed that the
proposal won't make everyone happy.
"There is going to be some
part of this that everyone likes. There's going to be something
everybody dislikes. Hence the nature of a compromise," he said.
"Everybody's going to have to swallow in some areas, for sure."
Members of various groups
involved in the process said they are cautiously optimistic that
something good will come out of the congressman's efforts. Simpson first
announced his intention to work on a wilderness bill for the mountain
ranges in 1999, though momentum did not pick up until roughly a year
"There's things we like,
and there are things we're not so thrilled about," said Bill Dart,
executive director of the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a Pocatello-based
motorized advocacy group. "I will give Congressman Simpson credit for
doing a better job than anyone I've seen with a wilderness bill."
Perhaps an indication of
the long road to resolution in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains,
some members of various stakeholder groups have said the status quo
would be better than Simpson's plan.
"What's there would be
preferable to this proposal," Dart said.
Some of Dart's
conservation-oriented counterparts agree.
"It's certainly not a
wilderness bill. He's not calling it that anyway. It's a motorized,
multiple use bill, more than anything," said Kaz Thea, a fisheries
biologist and regional coordinator for the NREPA Network, a conservation
group dedicated to the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, which
would designate wilderness throughout the Northern Rockies with a
single act of congress.
"I'd like to see the bar
raised and not lowered," Thea said. "Every time we lower the bar, it's
more difficult to get the real wilderness that the Wilderness Act was
Singer Carol King, a
13-year proponent of NREPA and a part-time resident of the Salmon River
canyon near Clayton, said there is no reason to support a marginal
wilderness bill like Simpson's when something like NREPA is picking up
"I am not happy with the
framework," she said. "I don't think it's a good bill at all. First of
all, it makes huge, irrevocable concessions, particularly to the
"I have had discussions
with people who love wilderness who think that Simpson's bill is a way
to get some wilderness, and that's why they're supporting it. I want to
say to those people that once they give away that land, it's gone.
People who think they can go back and get the land later are wrong. It
Thea, King and other
conservationists are critical of Simpson's proposal to give U.S. Forest
Service-owned land to Custer County as part of an economic development
package for the beleaguered rural county.
"This is really a bad idea,
in my opinion," said Jon Marvel, executive director of Hailey-based
Western Watersheds Project. "The Sawtooth National Recreation Area was
created to prevent subdivision in 1972, and that remains a very good
reason for the SNRA's continuing existence. This would totally undermine
Some, however, said Simpson
is not proposing to give enough land to Custer County.
"Originally, he was talking
about 16,000 acres. I wanted more than that. Now it's down to 1,000
acres," said Custer County Commissioner and Mackay resident Lin Hintze.
"But overall, I think the Simpson thing is a good deal. I really do. If
the dollar signs are right for Custer County, so that we can have some
sort of payment to help the budget out in the coming years, it might not
be too bad."
But if federal land is to
be doled out, Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael said she wants a
piece of the pie. Michael said she is negotiating with federal land
managers to see if Blaine County might be able to receive some federal
land to help accommodate its affordable housing needs.
"I understand Custer
County's economic development needs, but Blaine County has affordable
housing needs," she said.
Nonetheless, Michael said
Simpson's plan might be a fair concession for wilderness advocates,
though it appears a little small and fragmented.
"In the political realities
of getting a wilderness bill through Congress, this sort of a compromise
may be the only type of wilderness we have in the future," she said.
"The question is: Is some wilderness better than none at all."
The Idaho Conservation
League, the key conservation organization pushing for wilderness in the
two Central Idaho mountain ranges, said it is reserving judgement and
wants to know what its members and the public at large think.
"It's the first time we've
seen this whole package," said Katheryn Goldman, an Idaho Conservation
League conservation assistant. "Simpson is to be congratulated for
getting this framework out on the table so everyone can have a serious
discussion on the Boulder-White Clouds and the future of wilderness
Goldman said, however, that
her group was surprised at some parts of the proposal.
"We knew there was going to
be something for everybody, but we didn't know where," she said. "So I
guess the where was a little bit of a surprise."
Among the most
controversial aspects of the proposal for Boulder White Clouds Council
Executive Director Lynne Stone was that a peninsula of road-free land
between Pole Creek and Fourth of July Creek would not be given
wilderness designation. In fact, Simpson proposes to install a new trail
across the area and open a long-closed trail to motorized use.
"That kind of came like a
bolt of lightning from what was already a pretty dark cloud," Stone
said. "We don't know the impacts to mountain goats, lynx or other
species that are back there. That really needs to be scrutinized and
"If they open up that
(Champion Creek) loop, I would expect that the motorized use in the
Sawtooth Valley would increase 100 fold."
Though she observed several
positive aspects of the proposal, Stone was disappointed overall.
"It's a rocks and ice
wilderness proposal," she said.