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Archive for the ‘Wilderness’ Category

The battle over an obscure policy directive by Interior Secretary Salazar over BLM lands blew up this week, with Governor Otter testifying before the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, and Rep. Raul Labrador introducing his very first piece of legislation.

The “wild lands” policy, announced in December, would simply have BLM consider wilderness values if and when it writes management plans for the properties under its control. Until a Bush administration settlement with the State of Utah in 2003, it has been the standard practice of the agency dating back to a Congressional mandate in 1976. Salazar’s directive doesn’t create new areas for wilderness-level protection. Rather, it simply allows some sort of continued protection to occur, if warranted, and after an extensive public review. Indeed, both Democratic and Republican administrations have maintained provisional protections for these places until Congress can consider permanent designations. Nationwide, less than 1% of BLM’s land is designated as wilderness. Some 42%, however, is leased to oil and gas interests.

According to a 2007 management plan and environmental impact statement for the Coeur d’Alene region, BLM identified only three parcels that might qualify for wilderness-level considerations. One is a 720 acre BLM parcel adjacent to the Forest Service’s 98,000 acre roadless area on the Selkirk Crest. Another is a 12,000 acre BLM parcel adjacent to 22,000 acres of Forest Service roadless area on Grandmother Mountain in Shoshone County. Another is 9000 acres around Crystal Lake at the headwaters of Latour Creek south of Cataldo, also in Shoshone County.

But continuing to protect this type of spectacular roadless land is some sort of outrageous, apparently.

Labrador’s bill, called the “Idaho Land Sovereignty Act” would require Congressional approval for BLM’s continued protection of these lands for their wilderness values. Labrador’s over the top press release says:

This denies jobs and security to a nation in need of both and is a sad example of the out of touch decisions being forced upon us by an aloof administration. In addition, the administration is totally out of line with the interests of Western states by denying us the right to manage our own lands and wildlife populations.

Meanwhile, Idaho’s fiercely anti-wilderness Governor Otter testified to Congress that the floating green on Lake Coeur d’Alene was more valuable than Idaho’s 2-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness managed in part by the BLM.

It’s a nice green, on a really nice lake, but literally, there’s no comparison.

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 According to reporting by Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman, Rep. Mike Simpson has addressed each and every one of Governor Otter’s concerns with the proposed CIEDRA legislation for wilderness and recreation in central Idaho.  Otter threw a monkywrench into the Congressional works just as the U.S. Senate held a long-awaited hearing several weeks ago.

 Notably, Simpson’s letter comes after the Idaho GOP convention and its right-tilting platform was approved opposing new wilderness. According to Barker, Simpson evidently hopes that Otter will go from actively opposing the bill to maybe inactively opposing the bill, and that will be enough to keep Senator Risch’s important support.  Here’s hoping that that’s enough.

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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.

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Our friends at Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness are ramping up their efforts to get commitments for wilderness designation for some of North Idaho’s best landscape.  The idea has been around for a long time, and we agree that it’s about time that we see some movement. Indeed, here in the KEA offices, we just came across an old fact sheet about Scotchman Peaks describing an early proposal.  So it got us to reading some stuff:

— Let’s protect Scotchman Peaks Wilderness once and for all — Idaho Conservation League, and an op-ed in the Bonner County Daily Bee.  (Take action at a nifty Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness page which will allow you to email your congressional representatives.)

— Meanwhile in Montana, EarthJustice has problems with Sen. Tester’s proposals about logging and wilderness — New West

— Politically, how’s Obama doing on western land policy? — Rocky Barker’s blog

— Climate and wilderness forces should be combined — Firedoglake

— Fine dining and wild rivers (featuring our friends at ROW Adventures) — New York Times

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At their excellent website, the Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness have an interesting and optimistic glass-half-full take on the recent convening of a “Panhandle Collaborative” to discuss lands and forestry issues in our northern region. The brainchild of Congressman Walt Minnick, the collaborative will attempt, maybe, to sort through the many issues with many stakeholders to come up with some way forward on wilderness, forests, and economic development issues that have been extraordinarily tough to navigate in the past. 

KEA attended the Monday meeting in Sandpoint, and we’re still sorting out our current levels of optimism. But we certainly hope, like our wilderness advocates just north of here, that the momentum and support for the Scotchman Peaks wilderness will not be sidetracked by the many other issues that the collaborative will need to sort through.

UPDATE 11/23 :  Check out the Friends of the Scotchman Peaks no-nonsense (but still optimistic) take on the prospects on the Montana side of the border.

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