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Post Office Box 6313
Ketchum, Idaho 83340
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2003 All rights reserved.
 

 

Current News & Issues: Wilderness
 

 

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The following editorial appeared in The Post Register, Idaho Falls, Idaho October 19, 2004.
 

 

A New Chance for Wilderness

By J. Robb Brady
The Post Register, Idaho Falls, ID


Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson made history this month - producing the state's first wilderness bill in a generation. The product of two years of creative negotiations, it designates 300,000 acres in the Boulder-White Cloud ranges as wilderness double the previous proposal worked out between then-Sen. James McClure and then-Gov. Cecil Andrus in the late 1980s.

Coming as it does at the end of the current congressional session, this measure is on hold until next year. That's a good thing. This bill has some problems and in the months ahead, Simpson should reconsider the following:

* Simpson wants to provide Custer County resources to boost its economy and in the process increase its tax base - which suffers from too few acres held in private hands. The best solution - a direct federal appropriation - won't fly because the federal budget already is too deep in deficit. But these parcels create conflicts. They include land next to Stanley - the exact
acreage is not specified in the bill - plus 960 acres in the Cape Horn area, some 20 miles west of Stanley.

Transferring the Stanley acreage to Custer County violates the 30-year-old charter of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. It would undermine the recreation area's open-space goals.

The 960 acres in the Cape Horn area is located at the headwaters of Marsh Creek, which feeds into the Middle Fork of the Salmon River - a rare wild salmon migration route in the Frank Church River of No Return wilderness.

* Simpson's bill provides 100-acre parcels of land - so far unidentified in the bill - to the state of Idaho for recreational access. It's redundant and unnecessary. Recreational access already can be provided in the national forests. Simpson's bill also assigns 300-acre parcels of federal lands for motorized recreation parks near Boise, Twin Falls, Idaho Falls and Pocatello.

* The bill calls for federal wilderness designation for the high country surrounding the North Fork of the Wood River watershed. But Simpson should add another 20,000 acres encompassing this watershed to the wilderness plan. The North Fork acreage, immediately north of Ketchum, provides people a reasonable access into the proposed wilderness. As it stands now, someone starting in Ketchum would have to drive 125 miles around the wilderness and up the East Fork of the Salmon River to find a wilderness-only trailhead.

* The new bill gives snowmobilers access to the inner heart of the White Cloud and Boulder ranges. It will lead to conflicts between snowmobilers and wildlife, including elk, in the lower winter ranges. Simpson ought to drop this provision.

* If a motorized trail in the Boulder-White Clouds area is closed, Simpson wants to require Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management to "replace" or "relocate" it. But there really are no "new" trails available - unless you're willing to damage a resource or disturb the wildlife in that area. This provision needs to go. Simpson's bill is already significantly over-generous to the motorized recreationists - going so far as to split the designated wilderness area. That's one reason why 20 national environmental organizations oppose Simpson's bill as it now is written.

* The bill would double the time licensed commercial outfitter can claim a portion of land to 10 years. The current five-year limit is sufficient.

These are flaws in an otherwise commendable effort. Simpson has worked through a formidable thicket of public land recreation interest groups - just to get this far. But his bill is an unfinished work. Fortunately, he's got the time he'll need to fix it.

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