We were pleased to have the opportunity to watch today’s live webcast of the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests hearing today regarding the Boulder-White Cloud bill which would bring new wilderness to central Idaho.
In a press release issued after the hearing, Idaho Conservation League noted that “the legislation will protect as wilderness 332,775 acres in the Boulder – White Clouds, including the proposed White Clouds, Hemingway-Boulders and Jerry Peak Wilderness areas, including 150 peaks more than 10,000 feet high, headwaters of four Idaho rivers, spawning beds for salmon, wildlife habitat and backcountry destinations for hikers, anglers, hunters, campers, and wildlife watchers.”
Rick Johnson, Executive Director at Idaho Conservation League testified ably about the lengthy process that led to the legislative initiative. More than ten years of negotiations and compromise led to a bill finally supported by Senators Crapo and Risch, and Congressman Simpson, who all spoke at the hearing. Motorized recreation interests still oppose the bill.
Remarkably, though, Idaho Governor Butch Otter sent a letter dated only Monday (pdf available here) in opposition to the bill too. Opposed to “more wilderness acres and federal red-tape” Otter says the bill will “negatively impact state wildlife management, mechanized recreation and grazing.” He proposes several “suggestions” regarding hunting, trapping, water rights, noxious weeds, and conveyances.
Immediately, though, Otter’s gubernatorial opponent this fall, Keith Allred put out a statement in support of the legislation. Allred said the legislation “preserves motorized access areas where my family and I have long enjoyed snowmachining. It extends wilderness protection to the pristine areas where we love to backpack, ride horses, and hunt. With these protections, future Idahoans will enjoy those areas in the same way we do today. [The bill] also respects the cattle ranchers’ and local communities’ interests.” Allred, no doubt, understood that recent polling in Idaho shows strong support for this particular bill and all its component parts.
So, on the merits of the legislation, Otter has chosen to be out of touch with the entire Idaho Republican delegation to Congress, and has given Allred a clear issue on which to campaign. More concerning to us at KEA, however, is Otter’s willingness to undercut a 10-year collaborative process. As collaborative conservation and landscape-scale land management becomes more of the norm in the western U.S. (whether we like it or not) this does not bode well for any similar collaborative possibilities in North Idaho.
UPDATE 6/18 : Rocky Barker from the Idaho Statesman writes about these concerns today. Not only the nascent North Idaho collaboration, but collaborations in the Clearwater, the Payette, Shoshone County, and Lemhi County will be looking at how this Otter-caused fiasco plays out.
UPDATE 6/19: Kevin Richert of the Statesman writes a scathing editorial about Otter’s misguided opposition.
UPDATE 6/20: The Times News in Twin Falls weighs in with jeers to Gov. Otter.
UPDATE 7/6: Rep. Simpson addresses Otter’s concerns.