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U.S. Senate Holds Hearing on Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness Bill May 21

ICL executive director prepares to testify

by

ED CANNADY
  • ED CANNADY

Next week, a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate will hear arguments for a new Wilderness bill to garner protection for the Boulder-White Cloud mountain ranges 

After introducing a bill to the U.S. Senate on designating sections of the Boulder-White Clouds area Wilderness, the bill was assigned to a senate subcommittee and on Thursday, May 21, it will get its first hearing. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining will hold the hearing on S. 583—the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act at 12:15 p.m., mountain daylight time. The bill is identical to the legislation Rep. Mike Simpson has introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Sen. Jim Risch went from opposing a Wilderness bill in the Boulder-White Clouds, to pushing for one—with "a capital 'P.'"
  • Sen. Jim Risch went from opposing a Wilderness bill in the Boulder-White Clouds, to pushing for one—with "a capital 'P.'"
"I am glad to announce that the Senate subcommittee of jurisdiction will hold a hearing on this bill that is so important to so many Idahoans," Risch said in a news release. "Through a truly collaborative effort, Congressman Simpson has crafted this legislation that is truly an Idaho bill. I look forward to discussing it further with my colleagues on the [subcommittee]."

The bill looks to establish three separate Wilderness areas in the Sawtooth and Challis national forests: the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness (67,998 acres), the White Clouds Wilderness (90,769 acres) and the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness (116,898 acres).

Next Tuesday, Idaho Conservation League executive director Rick Johnson will fly to Washington D.C. on the invitation from U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, to testify as a witness in the hearing.

"Risch went from opposing a wilderness bill for the Boulder-White Clouds to pushing one," Johnson told Boise Weekly. "That's pushing with a capital 'P.'"

Johnson said this bill is identical to the legislation that U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson has introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives—a scaled-down version of legislation that he's been advocating for more than a decade. Johnson said this new bill was reached through compromise.
Rick Johnson, executive director of the ICL, will fly to Washington D.C. next week to testify in the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness bill hearing. - IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
  • Idaho Conservation League
  • Rick Johnson, executive director of the ICL, will fly to Washington D.C. next week to testify in the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness bill hearing.


"It slims down what's designated as Wilderness," Johnson said. 
Between the three areas of Wilderness, there used to only be one trail open to motorized vehicle use. In this new bill, there's now two trails left open and the whole section between those trails, for motorized vehicle use.

"We  were wanting to close one of those trails, but compromise is compromise," he said.

Through the compromise, Johnson said this Wilderness bill has gained "unprecedented" amount of support from many different interest groups. Johnson pointed out that sometimes supporting a Wilderness bill in Idaho simply comes in the form of not opposing it, and this particular bill hasn't faced as much opposition as its ancestors.

There's another pressure that acts as a catalyst to get this bill rolling: the possible declaration of the area as a national monument from President Barack Obama.

"A lot of folks in Idaho would prefer not to have the president step in and designate it," Johnson said. His organization, on the other hand, has been closest to the campaign to get that national monument designation over the Boulder-White Clouds.

A national monument would encapsulate nearly 600,000 acres and though it's not as strict of protection as Wilderness, Johnson said it serves many different interest.

The national monument would protect 591,000 acres of the Boulder-White Clouds, as opposed to this bill, which designates 275,665 acres as Wilderness. - IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
  • Idaho Conservation League
  • The national monument would protect 591,000 acres of the Boulder-White Clouds, as opposed to this bill, which designates 275,665 acres as Wilderness.

"It protects the wildland character in Simpson's bill and allows for a broader landscape approach for the East Fork of the Salmon River watershed," Johnson explained. "It's not just bigger in area, but bigger in scope of issue."

Whether the area is designated as Wilderness or a national monument, Johnson said he'll be happy either way.

"We would like to see the protection bigger, but we're comfortable with this bill," he said. After he testifies and the subcommittee hears the rest of what he suspects will be a "short and sweet" hearing on the bill, they'll eventually vote to move it forward or it will die in committee.

His biggest question is whether or not Congress can get the bill passed, as it has failed to do so year after year. Regardless, Rep. Simpson has promised by the end of this year, one of two things will happen—either the Boulder-White Clouds will be protected as Wilderness, or become a national monument.

The colored parts of the map show each Wilderness area as proposed by this bill, whereas the dotted red line shows the proposed borders of the national monument, - IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
  • Idaho Conservation League
  • The colored parts of the map show each Wilderness area as proposed by this bill, whereas the dotted red line shows the proposed borders of the national monument,