Letters From the West

Sawtooth Society worries about Boulder-White Clouds monument (Update)

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

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

The proposal to turn the Boulder-White Clouds into a national monument is an empty page so far.

Proponents like the Idaho Conservation League and the Wilderness Society have laid out some parameters but have not supplied maps or details. That has caused people who are generally satisfied with the status quo to express fears and concerns.

The Sawtooth Society, a group formed by supporters of the 1972 legislation that created the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, surprised everyone a week ago with a full page ad expressing fears of “unintended consequences” of a national monument designation and a call for President Obama to preserve the sanctity of Public Law 92-400. It suggests despite spotty funding, poorly written easements and inconsistent Forest Service support for its park-like status, the SNRA has “widely considered to have been a tremendous success since its founding more than 40 years ago.”

Obama could establish a national monument in the area with a simple signature on a proclamation under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

Some of the proponents of a national monument, including Craig Gehrke, Idaho representative of the Wilderness Society, have suggested President Obama consider designating the entire SNRA as a national monument. Others just want the Boulder-White Clouds and the Jerry Peak area, which is outside of the SNRA.

No one has suggested the National Park Service take it over. No one has suggested overriding Public Law 92-400.

Boise State University Political Science Professor John Freemuth, a scholar on national monuments, said Tuesday he believes any contradiction in a monument proclamation to 92-400 would likely be challenged in court.

But the Sawtooth Society is still worried. It had a lawyer write up language that could be inserted into the proclamation creating a monument.

Ironically it is the same approach it took when Republican Rep. Mike Simpson was developing his Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, that included wilderness protection for the Boulder White Clouds. It withheld support until the language was in the bill.

So what would be the unintended consequences? Perhaps a flood of visitors to the awesomely scenic mountains meadows and valleys of the upper Salmon River, the group said in a press release.

“Loving the area to death would put unacceptable pressure on precious natural and recreational resources,” said Paul Hill, president of the Sawtooth Society.

The group did not want to leave the impression it is against a national monument.

“The stakes are too great to make a mistake in considering the question of whether or not to confer monument status on the area,” said Sawtooth Society Executive Director Gary O’Malley. “Let’s come together and get it right.”

But the group still supports Simpson’s bill. That raises the question is there still hope for CIEDRA?

Some folks are suggesting that the threat of the monument may clear a path for Simpson’s bill. Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, who had pushed or wilderness protection for the Boulder-White Clouds since the early 1990s, is the only other member of the Idaho delegation who supports Simpson.

Republican Sen. Jim Risch pulled his support for the bill and Gov. Butch Otter has steadfastly opposed all new wilderness in the state. They and Republican Rep. Raul Labrador and Simpson oppose a national monument.

“We are aware there is considerable concern about a monument designation,” said Crapo’s communications director Lindsay Nothern.

Timing is another unknown. If the administration waits until after 2014 it will have lost a powerful tool to encourage Congress to pass wilderness bills in other states like Montana and Utah.

But even if it were to roll out a monument that closed off motorized use, challenged Idaho water rights, even stopped hunting, the chances of it changing CIEDRA’s fate is slim. Even if Otter, Risch and Labrador held a press conference together stating their support for Simpson’s bill as written, House Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings would stand as a barrier.

Otter has not changed his long-time opposition to more wilderness in Idaho, said his press secretary Jon Hanian Wednesday.

“Right now not only do we have a recalcitrant Congress, we have a split delegation and we have a governor opposing us,” said Gehrke. “I don’t see how we put all that together again.”

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