Otter underestimates wilderness use to Congress

BOISE — Idaho Gov. Butch Otter greatly underestimated the number of people who visit a central Idaho wilderness when telling members of Congress how little wilderness means to residents in the state, a newspaper is reporting.

Otter spoke at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing Tuesday concerning an Obama administration plan to reverse a Bush-era policy and make millions of undeveloped acres of land eligible for federal wilderness protection.

“There are more people in one day, probably, that play golf on the floating green in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, than visit the Frank Church-River of No Return (Wilderness) in a year,” Otter told the committee, the Idaho Statesman reports. “And that’s just a par 3.”

The newspaper reported that when Otter hosted an event at the golf course in 2010, 144 people played.

Andy MacKimmie, the resort’s head golf professional, said more can play by starting players on every hole at the same time.

“We can accommodate up to 280 golfers in a day with double shotgun starts,” MacKimmie said.

The wilderness in 2010, based on permits, attracted 10,222 river runners on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River and another 8,769 on the Salmon River. Also, 1,229 hunters bough elk tags, and officials counted 13,000 steelhead angler days.

That adds up to more than 33,000 people who visited the wilderness, a number that doesn’t include hikers and horseback packers.

Jon Hanian, Otter’s spokesman, said Otter, a Republican, was responding to some Democrats on the committee who said wilderness can be good for tourism.

“What some failed to examine — and what the governor was trying to point out — was the diverse nature of tourism in our state and the different levels of economic impacts associated with each,” Hanian said.

Rick Johnson, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League, said most Idahoans recognize the values of wilderness and public lands.

“The governor needs to loosen his fed-bashing grip on the golf club and remember what it means to be an Idahoan,” Johnson said.

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