Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson’s Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill passed the House without objection today. “Today’s action by the U.S. House of Representatives is a great accomplishment for the thousands of Idahoans working to solve the Boulder White Clouds land management issue,” Simpson in a statement. “I am extremely optimistic that we will continue to move this legislation forward to become law.”
The bill, H.R. 1138, is dubbed the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act. Sen. Jim Risch is sponsoring identical legislation in the Senate, S. 538; it had a committee hearing in May and is scheduled for mark-up in the Senate Energy and Resources Committee this week.
The bill, backed by a wide array of groups, from conservationists to motorized recreation advocates to ranchers and rural county commissioners, has been in the works for more than a decade. If it doesn’t pass, President Obama has indicated he’ll declare a national monument in the area.
Craig Gehrke, Idaho director for the Wilderness Society, said, “Congressman Simpson’s leadership on protecting the Boulder-White Clouds is something sorely needed in Washington right now, and we commend his ability to move this bill cleanly through the process. It’s now up to the U.S. Senate to demonstrate that it can finally resolve this decades-long debate.”
Simpson’s office offered this summary of the provisions of the bill:
Sawtooth National Recreation Area: The Sawtooth National Forest would remain as the principle administrative body and the current management would remain intact under the existing SNRA law (PL 92-400) and the existing SNRA management and travel plans. The Challis BLM would remain the managers of the East Fork BLM and Salmon-Challis National Forest areas.
Wilderness: Three new wilderness areas would be created totaling 275,665 acres. They are the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness (88,079 acres), the White Clouds Wilderness (90,841 acres) and the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness (117,040). The total wilderness acreage would be reduced by 36,968 acres from the original CIEDRA bill that would have created 332,928 acres.
Multiple Use: Four wilderness study areas would be released back to multiple use: the Jerry Peak Wilderness Study Area, the Jerry Peak West Wilderness Study Area, the Corral-Horse Basin Wilderness Study Area, the Boulder Creek Wilderness Study Area and any USFS recommended wilderness not made wilderness totaling 155,003 acres. This is up 23,333 acres released from the original CIEDRA bill which totaled 131,670.
Motorized Use: No roads that are currently open to vehicles, or trails that are currently open to two wheeled motorized use would be closed. The Grand Prize and Germania trails (including the ridge in between) and the Frog Lake Loop would be excluded from wilderness and remain open to two wheeled motorized use under the existing SNRA travel plan. The following higher elevation snowmobiling areas would remain open as allowed under the existing SNRA travel plan: 4th of July Basin, Washington Basin, Phyllis Lake Basin, Champion Lakes and Warm Springs Meadows.
Mountain Bikes: All areas currently open to mountain bikes outside of the proposed wilderness will remain open. Under CIEDRA, the 4th of July trail would have been closed to mountain bikes and will now remain open. This allows the Pole Creek/Washington Basin/4th of July loops to remain open. The Germania/Grand Prize Corridor trails and all trails outside of the wilderness would remain open to mountain bikes subject to the SNRA travel plan.
Grazing: Grazing plays an important role in the heritage and economies of rural Idaho and Custer County. Along the East Fork of the Salmon River, generational ranching families provide significant benefits in maintaining the historic character and nature of East Fork while providing significant conservation benefits to the land, including sustaining the wide, open spaces and un-fragmented landscapes of the East Fork valley. In order to provide another tool for these families to maintain their livelihoods, a provision has been included to provide permittees within and adjacent to the proposed wilderness areas with a way to help them remain viable with as little disruption as possible. Permittees with allotments within the boundaries of the “Boulder White Clouds Grazing Area Map” would be allowed to voluntarily retire their grazing permits and be eligible for compensation from a third party conservation group. With this compensation, it is hoped that the ranching families will be able to create more secure and certain opportunities for future generations.
Support to Counties: Over $5 million in grants have been provided to Custer County and the surrounding Boulder-White Clouds communities for a community center, a county health clinic and EMT support, and improvements to Trail Creek Highway. Individual parcels of land will be conveyed to Custer and Blaine counties, and rural communities for public purposes the per latest CIEDRA bill.
Recreation Support: Over $1.5 million in grants have been provided to the SNRA for trail maintenance and improvements, including maintenance and improvements to existing motorized trails and two existing trails to provide primitive wheelchair access, and for acquiring the land to build a mechanized bike/snowmobile access trail between Redfish Lake and Stanley.