Letters From the West

Economic study predicts modest growth from Boulder-White Clouds monument

Castle Peak in the White Cloud Mountains (Courtesy the Idaho Conservation League)

Castle Peak in the White Cloud Mountains (Courtesy the Idaho Conservation League)

Creating a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument would help central Idaho’s economy, but it won’t transform it, states an economic study released Monday.

The study, by Boise economist Don Reading, said a monument could create 47 to 155 new jobs and boost the economy by $4 million to $12 million annually for Blaine, Butte, Custer and Camas counties. But because there is no specific proposal on the table, Reading said, it’s hard to predict how much of an impact a monument might have.

His figures were based on proposals that put the monument at approximately 571,276 acres. That includes public land west of Challis in the Jerry Peak Roadless Area managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Proponents recommend a monument jointly managed by the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the Sawtooth National Recreation Area where the Boulder-White Clouds lie, and the BLM.

“I don’t expect a flood of visitors to come in just by naming it a national monument,” Reading, of Ben Johnson and Associates, said in an interview.

What he does expect is that a national monument designation would attract new people to the area who will bring their jobs and income with them. He points out that broadband Internet service has been installed along the Salmon River corridor and air transportation is available in Hailey and Idaho Falls.

The Idaho Business Council is one of a dozen local and national groups that have joined former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus and now Bethine Church, widow of former Sen. Frank Church, in calling for designation of a monument.

Groups like the Wood River Biking Coalition and sportsmen have joined the effort, which has moved it beyond wilderness advocates. Proponents also have reached out to snowmobilers and other motorized groups for support.

Idaho League Executive Director Rick Johnson and board chairwoman Elaine French wrote in a blog Nov. 15 that the Sawtooth National Recreation Area has been unable to address the expansion of off-road motorized use in the area. They want a collaborative effort to write the proclamation President Obama would sign to create the monument.

“A monument won’t set the clock back but would limit further expansion of motorized use,” they wrote.

Business Council member Bob Russo, who owns the Elephant’s Perch, an outdoor apparel and equipment store in Ketchum, said a national monument moves beyond the debate about wilderness.

“Having it be wilderness-like in certain parts, but not a wilderness, then you can embrace all of the things that are there now, like motorized and mechanized, and horseback, and fishing and hunting, and everybody who’s there will have a place to play,” Russo said.

But some, like longtime Sawtooth Valley resident and author John Rember, oppose a monument because they worry it would bring too many people into the area and would destroy its wild character. He also worries about who will manage it.

“We’re going to have one more layer of administration over us,” he said.

Others, like Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen, are taking a wait-and-see approach.

“I’m not against the national monument designation, but I am concerned about the impacts on the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and those communities that are dependent on the SNRA,” Schoen said.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

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