After four decades of trying and more than a decade of specific attempts from Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson, to designate the Boulder-White Clouds as Wilderness, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously Tuesday, August 4 to formally protect more than 275,000 acres of the central Idaho mountains.
The Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act (H.R. 1138), sponsored by Simpson, already passed the U.S. House of Representatives on July 27 by a voice vote. Meanwhile in the U.S. Senate, a companion bill, sponsored by Sen. Jim Risch, was pushed through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and finally made its way to the Senate floor, with Risch taking the lead. The measure passed late Tuesday afternoon on a voice vote. It now heads to President Barack Obama who is expected to sign it into law.
"This is truly a great day for the people of Idaho and for everyone who loves the Sawtooth [National Recreation Area]," said a statement from the Sawtooth Society. "It permanently preserves and protects these unique lands with the gold standard of protection—Wilderness."
The Idaho Conservation League, which has been working to secure permanent protection over the mountains for 42 years, also sent out a statement after the vote applauding the U.S. Congress. The organization has devoted immense resources towards designating the area as a national monument within the past few years. There's a tinge of disappointment behind ICL's statement:
"From our perspective, this wilderness bill could have been stronger. The national monument proclamation ICL and others have been working towards over the last three years would have protected more acreage," said ICL's executive director, Rick Johnson. "However, we understand that legislation requires compromise. The conservation community had to give some—and so did other stakeholders. At the end of the day, we are pleased that one of Idaho's most pristine wildernesses gets the lasting protection it deserves."
Johnson traveled to Washington D.C. in May to testify before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on the importance of protecting the Boulder-White Clouds during a hearing on the issue. The national monument would have doubled the protection of the area—covering almost 600,000 acres.
Simpson's revised bill establishes 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).
“Through a collaborative effort, Congressman Simpson crafted this legislation that is truly an Idaho bill,” Risch said in a statement. “Regardless of where people are on this issue there isn’t anyone who would disagree that the heart of this area is one of the most remarkable places in the world. ... Importantly, a vast and diverse coalition of the land users and preservationists came together as a result of Congressman Simpson’s work and created an Idaho solution. I am glad to see that every one of my Senate colleagues agreed and supported this Idaho bill.”
Based on information provided by the affected agencies and assuming appropriation of the necessary amounts, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that implementing the bill would cost less than $500,000 over the 2016-2020 period.