The spicy stew that is the Boulder-White Clouds wilderness legislation now goes over to Sen. Larry Craig's kitchen. On Monday, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson got what he'd been after for years: passage of the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, or CIEDRA, by the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill passed on a hurried voice vote, and now heads to the Senate.
The question now is whether Craig will be able to work the bill like Simpson, whose shuttle diplomacy garnered him gushing praise from those he worked with, and enmity from those who felt shut out of the process.
Now it's Craig's turn. CIEDRA's next stop will be in the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests, which Craig chairs. His spokesman, Dan Whiting, said only that Craig "looks forward to working with Congressman Simpson on it."
"Senator Craig needs to be able to comfortably represent the diversity of interests that came together to create the bill," said Rick Johnson, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League, which aggressively pushed the bill, despite some discomfort with part of its ingredients.
CIEDRA is quite a mix: It creates three new wilderness areas in Idaho, encompassing 315,215 acres, or 492 square miles. It also breaks new ground: It would authorize the first-ever wheelchair-accessible trails in a federal Wilderness Area, and locks in some existing use of off-road vehicles and snowmobiles. Lastly, the nut of the bill sparked heated controversy: Hundreds of acres of federal land are transferred to city and county entities in and around the Sawtooth Mountains. In so doing, Simpson got lots of fans from rural governments like the Custer County Commission.
"The old approach to wilderness, of sacrificing the needs of individuals and specific user groups to the benefit of others, will not work any more," Simpson said in his floor speech Monday. "Those who are affected by wilderness must be a part of the solution."
But some big names in wilderness conservation say the process was rigged. John Osborn, the conservation chair for the Northern Rockies chapter of the Sierra Club and a former board member of ICL, said CIEDRA's give and take, as well as the hurry-up process that got it passed, were deeply flawed.
"We are witnessing the cynical use of public process to achieve a supposed conservation 'win,'" said Osborn in a prepared statement. "Organizations and officials pushing CIEDRA are running an aggressive and lavishly funded campaign. But corruption of process leads to corruption of outcome, and CIEDRA is a corrupt and terrible bill."