This post about the Boulder-White Clouds (BWC) is directed mostly toward my Idaho readers. However, all Americans should be paying attention and can have a voice in this debate.
What’s the big deal about the Boulder-White Cloud National Monument Proposal? The BWC are a pair of rugged mountain ranges that scrape the sky in the center of Idaho; they harbor natural resources like timber and molybdenum, and birth the headwaters of four of Idaho’s five major rivers. The BWC provide thousands of miles of uninterrupted recreational opportunities for hikers, horsemen, cyclists, and ATVers. Competing with bears, wolves, wolverines, cougar, and lynx, two-legged hunters probe nooks and crannies of the BWC in search of game—everything from big horn sheep to antelope. It is the pristine waters of the BWC that lure salmon and steelhead inland to complete their life cycle. And it is these very cold, pure streams that provide critical habitat for rainbow, redband, brook, and bull trout. As climactic warming trends creep northward, BWC’s 150 ten thousand-foot+ peaks will be the last bastion of shelter for these native species.
The first major human threat to the BWC was turned on its heel about 55 years ago. In response to the gigantic open-pit molybdenum mine that was planned at the base of Castle Peak—the queen gem of the BWC—conservationists proposed the establishment of a 1.3 million acre Greater Sawtooth National Park and National Recreation Area. The goal was to establish a National Recreation Area in the lowlands with eventual wilderness protection for the highlands.
In 1972 the Sawtooth Wilderness and Sawtooth National Recreation Area were established. This act protected the adjacent Sawtooth range, but did not permanently and fully protect the BWC. To make a long story shorter, the political winds shifted in Idaho during the 1980s and 90s. The fate of the BWC has been a matter of heated debate since then. Conservationists pushed for full wilderness protection, whereas ranchers, miners, and Fed-skeptics pushed for fewer federal restrictions and greater state control over this jewel that takes up so much of our state.
Finally shortly after Y2K, Republican Congressman Mike Simpson tried to jigger support for a collaboration that would protect the BWC while mollifying opponents to wilderness style protections. Simpson dedicated a huge portion of his energy and political clout to making sure that all the stakeholders would get something from the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA). Sadly, the legislation has languished in Congress, failing even to reach the House floor. Just like everything on Capitol Hill these days, neither side is willing to compromise. Wilderness advocates shout for more wilderness while state’s rights advocates and motorized lobbyists want few to no restrictions.
My next post will explore the latest tactic to protect the BWC.