In Idaho and other Western states, wilderness preservation vs. natural resource extraction, controlled access vs. unrestricted access and motorized vs. nonmotorized recreation are hot-button topics that have glacially worked their way through the governmental quagmire, leaving a spoor of pulverized ideologies in their path. Affected factions sulk and complain, heels are dug in, forward movement stops and the wilderness suffers.
Evident of this ideological and bureaucratic nightmare is the fact that as the Wilderness Preservation Act celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, Idaho has not had a wilderness designation in 24 years.
Senator Mike Crapo and Representative Mike Simpson are each trying innovative approaches to resolving land use conflicts in the Owyhees and Boulder-White Clouds respectively. Both politicians want to present Congress wilderness preservation bills that also provide economic and motorized recreation protections.
While their goals are similar, their approaches are quite different. Crapo took a passive approach, asking constituents to come to a consensus and put together a proposal for him to take to Congress, while Simpson took a more active approach and put together his own proposal based on conversations with affected parties.
The Owyhee Initiative--a plan developed by ranchers, recreationists and conservationists to address land use conflicts in the Owyhee Canyonlands--has yet to make it to Sen. Crapo's desk. Crapo seems genuinely eager to move forward with the plan, but if the task force can't get everyone on board, the initiative could get bogged down like a car caught in the muddy gumbo of an Owyhee jeep trail as angry off-roaders and conservationists sit with their precious convictions, spinning their tires.
Rep. Simpson is champing at the bit to take his Boulder-White Clouds proposal to Capitol Hill. After holding a series of town hall meetings earlier this summer, Simpson earlier recently released draft legislation for the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA).
"This draft legislation is a result of working with interested parties, landowners, county officials, ranchers, motorized users and environmentalists," said Simpson in a press release. "This draft comes close to what I believe provides a win to the interested parties who recreate and make a living in the Boulder-White Clouds."
After tweaking the numbers and fine-tuning the bill's language, Simpson plans to introduce the bill to Congress within a couple weeks. (To read Simpson's draft CIEDRA legislation, go to www.house.gov/simpson.)
The CIEDRA already has many conservationists hollering wolf in sheep's clothing.
Last week the Sierra Club and 26 other state, regional and national conservation and wildlife groups sent a letter to Rep. Simpson announcing their opposition to CIEDRA.
"[W]e cannot support legislation that mandates environmental damage to parts of the Boulder-White Clouds as a quid pro quo for awarding wilderness protection to other parts," reads the letter signed by representatives from Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, Idaho Wildlife Federation and Alliance for the Wild Rockies, among others. (To read the letter in its entirety, go to http://Idaho.sierraclub.org/)
Idaho Conservation League Executive Director Rick Johnson is cautiously optimistic about Simpson's proposal. While the ICL did not join other conservation groups that announced their opposition to CIEDRA, Johnson does acknowledge the draft bill has some unresolved issues including land conveyance and key areas like the North Fork of the Big Wood River not receiving protection.
The grazing permit buyout component of the bill is a definite strong point for Johnson, who says everyone wins from this solution.
Johnson credits Simpson for tackling a difficult issue and in the process doing better and making more progress than previous Idaho delegations and agencies.
Johnson, who has been working toward Idaho wilderness protection for two decades, acknowledges it is time for conservationists to try a different approach and for Idahoans to get back into the process of shaping decisions affecting the state.
"In the 80s and 90s, [conservationists] kept thinking Idaho's politics would get better," says Johnson. "It is irresponsible to wait for the second coming of Frank Church. It is time to play with the cards we've been dealt. We need to make Idaho's politics of today work."