Thursday, April 3, 2014

Boulder White-Clouds Monument Debate (L)

Tensions have emerged in recent months among conservationists responding to efforts by the Idaho Conservation League and The Wilderness Society to have roughly 600,000 acres of the Boulder and White Cloud Mountains declared a National Monument.  The proposed Monument would include a substantial portion of the 40-year-old Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA).
Not that a national monument isn’t a good idea.  But, as many involved in the debate have said, “the devil is in the details.”

Tensions began when the Stanley-based Sawtooth Society, advocate and watchdog for the SNRA, found it had been left out of the early stages of a Conservation League and Wilderness Society initiative for a Boulder-White Clouds monument. Despite requests, Paul Hill, the Society’s President, said the Society was initially unable to get answers about the proposed details under monument designation.   

Since the majority of the Boulder-White Clouds is already inside the SNRA, “it’s imperative that a proposed National Monument preserves the primacy of SNRA law and regulations,” Hill has said, calling for “open, transparent, and collaborative discussion by all legitimate stakeholders to form a consensus about goals for the Boulder White Clouds area.”

Hill’s words have been heard.  More and more stakeholders have asked for collaboration among all interested parties; they are listening to each other and trying to work toward a consensus on goals for the area based on its high-quality territory and types of usage.
Congress created the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA) in 1972 under Idaho Senator Frank Church’s leadership to preserve its wild and scenic lands. A large portion of the western side of the SNRA was also designated Wilderness, the highest protection for public lands. Another 300,000 or so acres in the Boulder-White Clouds, lying east and outside of the SNRA (north of Ketchum along Route 75), remained largely unprotected, however, and subject to opportunistic incursions by mining interests and motorized vehicles. 

Conservationists next set their sights on the Boulder-White Clouds for greater protection. With its world-class wildlife habitat, headwaters of the East Fork of the Salmon, and fragile, roadless environment, it met the criteria for Wilderness designation. Working with Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, conservationists helped shape the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA). Its centerpiece was Wilderness designation for that portion of the Boulder-White Clouds lying in the eastern SNRA.  Simpson submitted the bill to Congress in 2005 but it has stalled there since, partly due to opposition by Governor Butch Otter and Senator Jim Risch, R-Idaho.

Last May, the Idaho Conservation League (ICL), working with The Wilderness Society, began lobbying Washington to protect 600,000 acres of the Boulder-White Clouds through National Monument status. The proposed boundaries (see map) include much of the already protected eastern SNRA (including CIEDRA’s 300,000 proposed Wilderness acres), the East Fork of the Salmon, Jerry Peak, and Herd Peak.  Monument status would simply require President Obama’s signature on a proclamation according to the 1906 Antiquities Act.

Monuments come with their own set of regulations, however. And so, for 40 years, has the SNRA. Therein lies the rub: how to handle the conjunctive management of the largest area of roadless lands in the lower 48 states. The answer is still up in the air.

Rob Mason, Central Idaho Representative for the Wilderness Society, understands how tensions arose, saying, “The idea got out and it sounded like monument declaration was imminent.  People got anxious.” Rick Johnson, Executive Director of ICL, agrees, “We started out fast without much stakeholder input, but now we’re listening to individuals and interest groups to learn what they want in a national monument.”
Public meetings have been held in Stanley and Blaine County and are planned for Challis. Private meetings continue.  Sportsmen, mountain bikers, and hikers are stating their goals and concerns.  At this point, all stakeholders appear to support the primacy of SNRA regulations whether encompassed by or bordering a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument.  They also call for preserving the Boulder-White Clouds prize fishing and hunting habitat, proper funding, and controlling human impacts in a fragile environment. A cohesive management plan is also important since, in addition to SNRA regulations, Boulder White Clouds lands are run by the Bureau of Land Management, and two national forests.

The prospects for monument designation, while not certain, seem positive. Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior, has called for presidential action if Congress fails to move on proposed land protection legislation. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, has said, “The Obama administration would work to evaluate the Boulder-White Clouds area as a possible national monument.” Mason adds that the high recreation value of the area and long-term CIEDRA efforts by Rep. Mike Simpson have laid significant ground work. “Everyone in Washington knows about the Boulder-White Clouds,” he says. 

If President Obama actively considers monument status for the area, Mason says stakeholders would have the opportunity to express their views to Administration officials both before and after a Proclamation.  He points out that proclamations usually happen toward the end of a president’s term, but says, “There’s a chance we might get some action on this by next summer.”

Mason urges interested parties to become involved in the debate. “It’s important that stakeholders weigh in sooner than later,” he says, and suggests people contact the involved nonprofits or Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack.   

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