It took more than 40 years of advocacy work to permanently protect the Boulder-White Cloud mountains. On the morning of Aug. 7, President Barack Obama signed the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act—formally designating 275,665 acres in the Boulder-White Cloud mountains of Central Idaho as wilderness.
While it took a lot to get there, Chuck Mark, forest supervisor for the Salmon-Challis National Forest, said the hard work has just begun.
"Now it's implementation time," Mark said.
Land managers from the Salmon-Challis National Forest, the Bureau of Land Management Challis branch, the Sawtooth National Forest and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area need to collaborate to form three separate wilderness management plans.
The bill divvies the mountains into three wilderness areas: the Hemingway-Boulder Wilderness (67,998 acres), the White Clouds Wilderness (90,769 acres) and the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness (116,898 acres).
Mark said the bill mandates the management plans be in place in the next three years. He has already started conversations with other land management agencies, but said the bulk of the planning will take place over the winter.
"The two toughest tasks will be: No. 1, the management plans and, No. 2, marking the boundaries," he said. "That is always a tough task with wilderness areas because of the topography and the roughness of the country. The boundaries don't always follow a ridge line or a creek, they're just mid-slope."
Marking those boundaries with signs should start next summer, but even though the signage isn't yet in place, the area is officially wilderness and will be treated as such. Mark said his rangers won't ticket people right away for using mountain bikes or motorized vehicles, but there will be a heavy education component and enforcement will follow.
Another challenge comes from grazing rights. The bill allows grazing to continue in parts of the wilderness by those who have been grandfathered in, but operations may change; motorized vehicles are no longer allowed.
"The clock has started ticking since the president signed," Mark said.