After six years of both working with and battling against various conservation groups, ranchers and motorized recreation advocates, Idaho Congressman Mike "The Wild Dentist" Simpson last Thursday introduced his divisive Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, more popularly known as the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness bill.
The bill, which was also introduced in a different version last year, would designate 300,011 acres of lands in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains as wilderness, where mining, logging and most motorized recreation would be prohibited-most, because many pre-existing roads and trails in the Boulder-White Cloud area would be grandfathered in under the plan. More controversially, the bill would withdraw another 131,616 acres from future consideration for wilderness designation, and transfer 2,000 to 3,000 acres of federal land to the control of the state, Blaine and Custer counties and the rural towns of Stanley, Challis, Clayton and Mackay. It would also fund the construction of a 960-acre motorized recreation park on federal land south of Boise, pay ranchers to give up grazing rights and allow wilderness outfitters and guides 10-year extensions on their current permits. All told, the final pricetag for the act would be $20 million.
Some conservation groups, including the Idaho Conservation League and the Wilderness Society have worked with Simpson to craft the plan, and feel its gains are worth the compromises. Others, like the Sierra Club, are still strongly opposed to several sections of the bill.
"While we hoped for a plan that we could support, we feel that Simpson's proposal has gone too far," wrote John Schmidt, chair of the eastern Idaho group of the Sierra Club, on the group's Web site. While admitting that Simpson "has tried to include something for everyone" in his plan, the club objects to the land chunks being gifted to the central Idaho cities, who could sell them off to be subdivided. The Sierra Club also objects to the portions of Simpsion's bill that opened up certain areas to increased motorized recreation, with Schmidt calling such compromises "far-reaching and terrible precedents for federal environmental laws and policy."
Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Larry Craig have not yet indicated their support or opposition for Simpson's bill. As of press time, it was waiting for a hearing in the House Resources Committee.