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Obama signs Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness bill

White Cloud Mountains. (Bob Drzymkowski)
White Cloud Mountains. (Bob Drzymkowski)

PUBLIC LANDS -- Less than three days after the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill approving the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains area for wilderness designation, President Barack Obama has signed the bill into law, ending a 40-year effort.

Obama signed the Senate's approval of H.R. 1138, the “Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act,” which designates three new wilderness areas (encompassing about 275,665 acres) in Idaho as components of the National Wilderness Preservation System; releases four wilderness study areas so that the land would be managed for multiple-use activities; and provides for several land conveyances in Idaho.

Following are remarks by the President during the signing of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act in the Oval Office at 9:05 a.m. PDT:

     THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, over the last six years, the American people have worked really hard to bounce back from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  We got jobs numbers today, showing that America created another 210,000 new jobs.  That makes 65 consecutive months of private sector job growth.  This is the strongest two-year run of private sector job growth that we've seen in the last 15 years.  And it is a testament I think to the incredible ingenuity and resilience and hard work of the American people.

     So, even as we continue to focus on rebuilding our economy, providing more opportunity, one of the things that we've also been trying to focus on is leaving a legacy for the next generation in preserving this incredible beauty, the God-given blessings that we've received -- those of us who live here in the United States of America.

     I think everybody here knows that one of the prettiest states that we have with some of the greatest national treasures is the great state of Idaho.  I am very proud to be able to sign this piece of legislation, enacted by the House of Representatives, entitled the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and the Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act.  And what this does is it designates three additional wilderness designations in the great state of Idaho. 

This is a remarkable area.  It is used by fishermen, hunters, rafters, people taking hikes.  It is not only beautiful, but it’s also an important economic engine for the state -- attracting tourism, creating jobs.  And thanks to the work of a broad-based coalition of folks in Idaho, but spearheaded here in Congress by Congressman Mike Simpson -- who was able to receive not a single “no” vote -- (laughter) -- which does not happen often in the House of Representatives -- something that folks have been working on for quite some time is going to be reality.

And so we want to congratulate all of them.  We want to urge the American people to visit these new, incredible wilderness areas, and recognize that not only will this give opportunities to people in Idaho, but it's going to be there for future generations as well.

One last point I want to make -- we want to be thinking during the course of this summer about the firefighters who are taking on some really tough fires all across the Western states. As I've noted before, we've seen a consistent escalation of the severity and the length of wildfire season.  And a lot of that is attributable to the fact that climate change is going to be raising temperatures and creating less water, more vulnerability to a lot of forests out there.  

One of the things we're trying to work on with Congress is making sure that we are able to properly fund firefighting efforts, but also that we're engaged in the kind of conservation planning to ensure that we're preventing fires from happening in the first place. 

And so that's a project that, at least in the Western states, you get a lot of bipartisan support for.  Hopefully we'll be able to get that same kind of support here in Washington.

So, again, congratulations to all of you.  Mike, congratulations for the great work you’ve done.

I will now sign this designation.

(The bill is signed.)

There you go.  Good job.  (Applause.) 

Here's a news report on the signing with details on the wilderness areas from the Associated Press:

 

By KEITH RIDLER/Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho — President Barack Obama on Friday signed a wilderness bill protecting 275,000 acres in central Idaho.

Obama signed the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act in the Oval Office with Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho and others behind him.

“This is a remarkable area,” the president said. “It is not only beautiful, but it’s also an important economic engine for the state — attracting tourism, creating jobs.”

The legislation creates three new wilderness areas in the rugged Boulder and White Cloud mountains. They are the 138-square-mile Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness, the 142-square-mile White Clouds Wilderness and the 183-square-mile Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness.

Simpson had been working on wilderness designation for 15 years, trying to balance the interests of ranchers, recreationists and environmental groups. Some groups had been pushing Obama to designate a much larger area a national monument. Simpson and others have said that threat likely played a role in the wilderness bill getting through the U.S. House and Senate.

“The Boulder White Clouds area is now protected, in perpetuity, by the gold standard of preservation designations,” Simpson said in a statement.

U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Julie Thomas with the Sawtooth National Forest said boundary signs for the three wilderness areas could start going up in a month, and that the agency hopes to have maps available this fall.

The Forest Service is responsible for managing all of the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness, and all of the White Clouds Wilderness except for 450 acres, which is being managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Of the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness, the majority is being managed by the Forest Service, with about 37 square miles managed by the BLM.

The agencies have three years to create a joint management plan for the wilderness areas, said Jesse Bender, a BLM spokeswoman based in Idaho Falls. She said the larger of the BLM wilderness portions was already a wilderness study area.

“The management won’t change significantly,” she said. “It’s going to be an evolving process for us.”

Both agencies said they’re still absorbing information and weren’t immediately able to say what initial steps were planned.

“We have a lot to learn about this,” Thomas said. “We have a lot to figure out.”

It’s not clear whether a wilderness designation will increase or decrease the number of visitors to the area. Thomas noted the Sawtooth National Recreation Area already draws 1.5 million visitors annually.

The legislation includes an option allowing grazing permit holders on land within or adjacent to the newly created wilderness areas to voluntarily retire their permits and be eligible for compensation from outside groups.

Custer County, where officials oppose restrictions on public lands, is receiving $5 million under the legislation for a county health clinic and road improvements.

Custer and Blaine counties are also each receiving individual parcels of land for various uses.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell had this statement on the signing:

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today commended President Obama for signing into law a bill that designates three new wilderness areas encompassing about 275,665 acres in Idaho as components of the National Wilderness Preservation System; releases four wilderness study areas so that the land may be managed for multiple-use activities; and provides for several land conveyances in Idaho.

“Idaho’s Boulder White Clouds is a spectacular corner of our country and is absolutely deserving of the recognition and permanent protection it achieves today. I look forward to getting back out to the region in the future to fully appreciate these new wilderness areas.

“Congressman Simpson’s legislation reflects years of meaningful engagement with ranchers, hikers, hunters, tribes and other stakeholders to ensure that the management plan meets the needs of current and future generations. I applaud Congressman Simpson and Senator Risch, whose efforts will benefit generations of Americans to come who will be able to enjoy this stunning area just as we do today.

“There are many bills pending in Congress to recognize special lands and waters across our nation that are deserving of protection, and I am hopeful that Congress will be inspired by what happened with Boulder White Clouds to move pending legislation forward expeditiously.”

The Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act designates three areas to become part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, including the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness (117,000 acres), White Clouds Wilderness (91,000 acres) and Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness (88,000 acres). These protected areas preserve approximately 276,000 acres of high mountain backcountry with crystal lakes and abundant wildlife.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages more than 24,000 acres of the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness, and 450 acres of the White Clouds Wilderness. The U.S. Forest Service manages the other federal lands within the wilderness areas. The Wilderness Act, signed into law in 1964, established the highest level of conservation protection for federal lands.




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Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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