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Current News & Issues: Wilderness


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The following article appeared in the Times-News for July 21, 2004.


Environmental groups jointly oppose Simpson wilderness plan
By Jennifer Sandmann
Times-News writer, Twin Falls, ID July 21, 2004

TWIN FALLS -- More than two dozen environmental groups are telling Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson that they can't support his wilderness and economic development proposal for the Boulder-White Cloud mountains near Stanley.

They say they want wilderness, but that his plan sacrifices too much.

Simpson has described his proposed Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act as a give-and-take proposition. The Idaho Republican said trade-offs are the new way to negotiate controversial land-use decisions. The old way, he said, was all about boundaries and has left the central Idaho wilderness issue unresolved for 30 years.

But finding the balance he seeks among environmentalists, off-road vehicle users and Custer County residents looking for a way to make a living in a mostly public-land based county so far hasn't leveled out.

After a round of public hearings, Simpson announced earlier this month that he may include another 100,000 acres to the 294,000 he has proposed for protection. But that hasn't stopped opposition from environmentalists to fundamental aspects of his proposal.

Simpson's office said Tuesday that it hadn't received a copy of the groups' joint letter that outlines their objections, and would wait to review it before issuing a response.

Objections raised by the groups include allowing off-road vehicle use throughout the proposed wilderness area and transferring 1,000 acres of public land to Custer County for economic stimulus. Most land within the county is public, and local governments struggle to handle the busy summer tourism season. Preserving more land as wilderness would further reduce the county's ability to raise revenues.

"If Custer County does need some additional funds, then let's provide them with the money instead of going this kind of backdoor way of giving them land," said Duane Reynolds, chairman of the Northern Rockies Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club took the lead in drafting the letter to Simpson's office.

Off-road vehicle use remains one of the most divisive issues. Off-road enthusiasts have opposed the plan on grounds that central Idaho already has thousands of acres of wilderness and that they would lose access to favorite trails. But Simpson's plans still permits off-road vehicle use in some areas of the proposed new wilderness.

"I do think people need places to snowmobile and use off-road vehicles, it just doesn't have to be in the Boulder-White clouds," Reynolds said.

The environmental groups said Simpson's plan opens critical ranges to motorized use, opens new motorized trails in pristine areas, allows permanent status for motorized use on national forest lands and "wastes" taxpayers' money by providing $1 million to Idaho's Off-Road Motor Vehicle Program to be used for off-road vehicle trail enhancements. A portion of the fund goes for enforcement activities and rehabilitation of land damaged by off-road vehicle users.

Times-News writer Jennifer Sandmann can be reached at 733-0931, Ext. 237, or by e-mail at

* Last we knew: Congressman Mike Simpson said he would likely increase the size of his proposed wilderness plan by 100,000 acres.
* The latest: Nearly 30 environmental groups have signed a letter telling the Idaho Republican that they want wilderness designation but that his plan is "too broken to ever fix."
* What's next: Simpson has said he will decide in August whether to hold another round of public hearings before taking his proposal to Congress.

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