Letters From the West

Johnson says Castle Peak history warrants 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)

History alone is enough reason to make the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains a national monument, speakers at Redfish Lodge said Saturday.

Cecil Andrus’ fight to stop a molybdenum mine at Castle Peak in 1970 got him elected governor and changed conservation politics in the West, said Idaho Conservation League Director Rick Johnson. He rattled off historic mining sites, unique botanical resources and fish and wildlife values that support the bid to make the entire Boulder-White Clouds worthy of monument status.

But Castle Peak, which rises above the surrounding peaks in the heart of the 500,000 acres roadless area is sacred ground for the West’s conservation movement.

“Castle Peak in the Boulder White Clouds is our Hetch Hetchy,” Johnson said.

Hetch Hetchy was a canyon near Yosemite equally scenic that John Muir and other preservationists a century ago tried but failed to protect from the backwaters of a dam. It became a rallying cry for future conservation fights.

Castle Peak was protected in the year of the first Earth Day due to Idahoans’ vote for Andrus.

The impact of that vote resonated across the West, said John Freemuth, a Boise State University political scientist who co-wrote a chapter with Andrus about national monuments. Andrus, who was appointed Interior Secretary by President Jimmy Carter, convinced him to use the Antiquities Act of 1906 to protect more than 100 million acres of Alaska.

Had Andrus not won the Castle Peak fight, there would not have been an Alaska victory, Freemuth said.

“There’s a history to the place that goes beyond its natural beauty,” Freemuth said.

Johnson told more than 50 members of the Idaho Conservation League at its annual Wild Idaho conference that he is seeking to convince President Obama to sign a proclamation establishing a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument under the management of the U.S. Forest Service. He wants the agency to go back to its own original management plan for the area that will include at least some motorized access.

But he said he does not feel constrained by details outlined in Republican Rep. Mike Simpson’s Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, which the ICL supported.

“That is not our proposal,” Johnson said.

He said he wants to come up with a proposal of which Idahoans can be proud.

“Conservation can complement Idaho’s conservative values,” Johnson said.

“We are not going to roll people,” Johnson said. “We don’t have that power. Reaching too far and failing is not something to be proud of.”

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.

Posted in Letters from the West