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Mike Simpson/Carole King Letters to Editor

Simpson: King is Misleading

Recently, Carole King and opponents to my Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA) have made statements in letters and advertisements that I find perplexing and misleading. It is implied that because I am opposed to the president's proposal to sell public lands to fund the Secure Rural Schools Program that I should not include land transfers and exchanges in my CIEDRA bill.

Yes, I am opposed to the president's formulaic plan to sell federal lands for generic budget savings. Selling federal lands for budget offsets is unacceptable. As a member of the Budget and Appropriations Committees, I successfully worked to remove that provision from the budget, as I do not believe that the president's indiscriminate cookie-cutter approach to selling 300,000 acres of federal lands is the appropriate mechanism for reducing the deficit. In contrast, my locally developed CIEDRA legislation will transfer 163 acres of Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA) lands adjacent to Stanley and approximately 3,500 acres of BLM lands to Custer County and local public entities. These lands were selected after careful consideration by the Custer County commissioners, public hearings and public comment, and are designed to provide economic opportunities and public benefit for Custer County and its rural communities.

Custer County's 4,000 residents are burdened by the fact that nearly 3 million of its 3.1 million acres are controlled by federal agencies. As I've said many times, one only needs to speak to a county commissioner to realize that this grossly disproportionate public ownership causes a severe strain on their limited resources. It is the resident taxpayers who support the great influx of visitors each year that recreate and enjoy the federal lands in Custer County. Their taxes maintain and pay for roads, law enforcement, search and rescue, medical aid, infrastructure, facilities and other services that visitors require and use.

It is misleading for Ms. King and her CIEDRA opponents to attack me and my locally developed compromise legislation by comparing it to the president's wholesale approach for selling federal lands for budget savings. The 3,500 acres I am proposing to transfer have been carefully identified and vetted in public hearings and comments. Ms. King and her opposition group should just as well compare apples and oranges.

My stand against the president's broad proposal to sell public lands to cut the budget deficit is the right one and my support for a small number of carefully identified federal lands to be transferred to the residents of Custer County who are directly burdened by a vast amount of federal lands is equally correct. The two cannot be compared.

--Congressman Mike Simpson

King: Nuh-uh!

Congressman Simpson's statements regarding "the 3,500 acres I am proposing to transfer" are perplexing to me, and, I suspect, to the growing number of citizens and the 42 conservation organizations who oppose CIEDRA. The number confirmed by the congressman's office is closer to 7,000 acres, though the exact acreage has been harder to pin down than a tarp in a windstorm.

Congressman Simpson says he's OK with "transferring" the public lands in CIEDRA because it's a "locally developed" bill. Actually, comments from many local people were ignored. Stanley residents expressed strong disapproval of the giveaway (euphemized as "transfer") of the Stanley acreage. Local people have worked long and hard to ensure that the millions of taxpayer dollars that have protected the SNRA since 1972 are not wasted. They want every acre of the SNRA kept in the SNRA.

If our congressman wants to help Custer County, as a member of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, he should apply himself to securing direct appropriations that aren't tied to wilderness. Locally, 14 Idaho-based conservation groups oppose CIEDRA. Only two support it. Contrary to the claims of supporters, CIEDRA is not worth all the tradeoffs. The wilderness in CIEDRA is substandard. It undermines the Wilderness Act. In testimony at a hearing in Washington on October 27, 2005, the Forest Service objected to provisions in CIEDRA that are inconsistent with the Wilderness Act. Two significant objections: (1) under some circumstances, all terrain vehicles (ATVs) will be allowed in CIEDRA's wilderness; (2) among the approximately 550,000 acres that CIEDRA will permanently lock in for motorized use are BLM Wilderness Study Areas and Forest Service Recommended Wilderness.

If our congressman wants to protect wilderness, I encourage him to do so in a separate, clean science-based (of which there is no mention in CIEDRA) wilderness bill that designates wilderness consistent with the Wilderness Act. I understand that Congressman Simpson was hoping to accommodate many diverse interests, but CIEDRA is the wrong approach. It gives away public land, establishes substandard wilderness, weakens the Wilderness Act and encourages and expands motorized use. We can do better.

--Carole King,