The following article appeared in the Idaho Mountain Express for
June 2004. View the original article online at
Wilderness proposal released
Congressman to host town hall meetings
By Greg Stahl, Express Staff Writer
If things go
according to plan, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, will submit potential
wilderness legislation for the Boulder and White Cloud mountains to
Congress by the end of July.
In the meantime, he said he wants to hear from the public about an
11-page "framework" that outlines his proposals for a wilderness,
economic development and motorized recreation package that would center
on Custer county and the two Central Idaho mountain ranges.
Simpson released the framework on Friday, June 18. An associated map was
posted to his Web site on Tuesday, June 22.
Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act proposal features
potential designation of three separate wilderness areas, opening and
closing of trails, construction of a paved bicycle path and federal land
transfers to Custer County, among a myriad of other considerations.
It would also give $1 million in the Idaho Off Road Motor Vehicle Program
and convey federal properties to the state of Idaho to be administered as
campgrounds, recreation facilities and as access points to federal land.
It would create a Boulder-White Clouds Recreation Management Area, which
would include all lands not designated as wilderness.
Simpson said the document is a starting point for public consideration and
is not a finished product. The concepts will be refined over the summer
following public meetings and a public comment period.
"I'll be able to comment a lot better after those meetings," he said.
In a Tuesday interview, Simpson said he has been working on the prospect
of a wilderness bill in the Boulder and White Cloud mountain ranges since
he was first elected in 1999. In the spring of that year, he announced at
a gathering of conservationists in the Sawtooth Valley that he would work
on the issue.
"As I met with different people and talked about the problems they have,
the problems the ranchers are having in the area, the problems the county
commissioners are having, it really began to gel," he said. "It became
apparent that maybe we could put together a plan that is comprehensive to
try to address a variety of problems in the area."
The document is broken into five distinct parts, but the most substantive
material appears in sections about wilderness designation, property
transfers and motorized trail access.
The proposal would designate three wilderness areas, totaling between
250,000 and 300,000 acres in all. They would be called the Boulder
Wilderness Area, White Cloud Wilderness Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness
Area. The latter would be managed by the Bureau of Land Management, while
the U.S. Forest Service would manage the Boulder and White Cloud
Corridors of motorized trail access would divide the wilderness areas,
including a controversial east-to-west motorized corridor from Pole Creek
through Germania Creek.
Along with the designation of three new wilderness areas, all other
Wilderness Study Area lands contained in the two mountain ranges would be
released. Congress designated the Wilderness Study Area in 1972 when the
Sawtooth National Recreation Area was established.
Simpson also has proposed a number of tactics for economic development in
Custer County, including the transfer of federal land to Custer County to
be sold for development.
SNRA land west of Stanley and adjacent to Highway 21 would be conveyed to
Custer County. After its subdivision, Simpson estimates the land could be
worth between $6 million and $10 million.
Another 1,000 acres of Challis National Forest lands would be transferred
to Custer County.
Other "small miscellaneous" properties would be transferred to Custer
County or private landowners to clean up conflicts with the BLM and Forest
Other small properties would be transferred to Custer County and the State
of Idaho to be used for recreation and tourism development.
Another part of the economic development package would be construction of
a paved bicycle path and winter snowmobile trail connecting Stanley with
Also, ranchers impacted by the wilderness designation would be allowed to
voluntarily retire their public land grazing privileges.
Finally, the proposal would reopen the Champion Lakes Trail to two-wheel
motorized access, and it would create a new motorized trail connecting
Phyllis Lake to the Washington Basin Trail. The proposal lists a number of
existing motorized trails that would remain open to motorized and
"I have to say that I've been very impressed with all of the different
user groups that have really stayed together on talking about all of
this," Simpson said. "The challenge has been keeping them together and
trying to mediate the concerns of many different users and views on
management in the Boulder-White Clouds.
"This same proposal probably would not have been feasible 10 years ago, 20
years ago, 30 years ago. But the time has come where most of them have
realized we need to resolve some of these problems.
"The alternative is to do nothing and have a lot of these issues
unresolved," he said. "I think that if we are unable to resolve this now,
I doubt anyone will try it again for the next 20 years."