Letters From the West

Preservationists, mountain bikers unveil Boulder-White Clouds deal

A trail leads out of Little Casino Campground into the White Cloud Mountains, which gives you access to the backcountry from the comfort of base camp. (Idaho Statesman file photo by Pete Zimowsky)

A trail leads out of Little Casino Campground into the White Cloud Mountains, which gives you access to the backcountry from the comfort of base camp. (Idaho Statesman file photo by Pete Zimowsky)

Preservationists and mountain bike groups struck a deal on a proposal for protecting the Boulder-White Clouds as a national monument.

The agreement zones the area to maintain it wilderness characteristics while continuing mountain bike access to the popular area north of Ketchum-Sun Valley.

Representatives of the Idaho Conservation League, Wood River Bicycle Coalition, International Mountain Bicycling Association and The Wilderness Society worked for months on the proposal they will present to the Obama administration seeking protection of the 500,000 acre roadless area managed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

The agreement comes as President Barack Obama announced he will designate the 1,665-acre Point Arena-Stornetta nature preserve on California’s coast as national monument this week, which the Washington Post said signals a more robust environmental agenda. The story specifically talks about the Boulder-White Clouds as a potential area for protection.

Idaho's breathtaking Boulder-White Cloud Mountains. (Idaho Statesman file photo)

Idaho’s breathtaking Boulder-White Cloud Mountains. (Idaho Statesman file photo)

“The Boulder-White Clouds is a spectacular landscape, and its valued for many reasons,” said Brett Stevenson, executive director of the Wood River Bicycle Coalition in Hailey in a joint press release. “It warrants National Monument protection and that protection can and should balance wilderness character with mountain biking and other forms of low-impact recreation that are compatible with conservation objectives.”

It recommends a mix of wilderness-grade protections for important watersheds in high alpine lake basins and the high peaks of the White Clouds Mountains alongside formalized travel corridors which preserve access for mountain biking in places like Castle Divide and Ants Basin.

“The Boulder-White Clouds have extraordinary wilderness values and world-class recreational access,” said Rick Johnson, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League. “We are working together to protect both.”

The agreement is aimed at stopping further erosion of protections of the area over the last 40 years to keep it “in largely the same way and in the same condition that it is today,” the groups said. Nearly as significant, the deal ends for now a clash between preservationists and mountain bikers, a growing user of the backcountry.

“I have watched for a decade with both trepidation and great hope, as our collective communities navigated a challenging yet important task of finding common ground on how to manage this iconic landscape,” said Michael Van Abel, president of the International Mountain Bicycling Association. “I am pleased to see that in today’s often divisive atmosphere, we have reached an agreeable solution and can stand united on what the future of the Boulder-White Clouds should look like.”

The inclusion of The Wilderness Society, whose decades of lobbying have protected more than 100 million acres of wilderness in the United States is significant.

“This agreement represents one of the best things about conservation in Idaho – people with diverse views rolling up their sleeves to work together,” said Craig Gehrke, Idaho director of he Wilderness Society.

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