Fifteen years after Congressman Simpson’s introduction of CIEDRA, the Boulder-White Clouds (BWC) are still unprotected. Despite the best efforts of Idaho’s most respected political leaders on both sides of the issue, there is little hope on the horizon. The negotiation process has shrunk the originally proposed boundaries of the protected area. Recognizing the real possibility that the dilly-dallying of the wilderness objective would eventually spell disaster for this special area, while mining interests press on and motorcycles plow through dry and fragile landscapes, the Idaho Conservation League (ICL) has done the unthinkable. ICL and other conservation-minded organizations have shifted their focus from wilderness designation to national monument designation.
How does a National Monument differ from a Wilderness Area?
- A wilderness area provides the highest level of protection possible for public lands and is “recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man.” In other words, no roads, no motorized equipment (not even chainsaws), no mechanical transportation. Wilderness designation is a lot like a safe deposit box. Everything within the boundaries is locked down tight.
- A national monument allows for a broad mix of uses. Hunting and fishing would be allowed according to current management plans, no changes in pre-existing water rights, fire management and managed grazing would be allowed, mechanized travel would be allowed in areas that are not currently deemed “roadless.” What was roadless before national monument status stays roadless; Use of pre-existing roads will be managed with local input and best use needs.
What does National Monument status mean to BWC?
- National monument designation can happen with the stroke of the President’s pen, thanks to the Antiquities Act of 1906.
- Monument status would provide one unified plan to protect the entire BWC ecosystem and watershed, rather than current piecemeal platter of different plans for different areas that are now managed by the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
- National monument status allows for a more flexible approach to managing various components of the area, while still protecting the most pristine and thus far untrammeled regions.
How Does the National Monument designation protect the BWC? The most important aspect is the ability to manage the entire almost 600,000-acre area, containing the largest current roadless area in the lower 48 states, as one connected ecosystem, thus providing comprehensive protection for wildlife and fisheries while also maintaining historic uses and providing local input for management rules.
Is a National Monument the best solution for the BWC? Monument status does not guarantee the deep level of protection that wilderness advocates might wish for. But it does ever so much more to protect the area than the 40 years’ worth of bickering and grandstanding that has occurred. The current boundaries of the potential wilderness area have been whittled down to nearly half the size of the proposed national monument. The size of the National Monument may frighten Fed skeptics, but given that the public will have more say so in how most of that land is managed should sweeten the pill.
So, why should I care? What can I do? In the final analysis, this issue comes down to your perceptions about public lands administration and who owns what and why? I believe that federal lands, most of which park in western states, belong to all Americans. Some understandably grouse about the burden of western states having to support public lands for the entire nation. Many believe that the federal government sucks up land and taxes, squandering all those resources in an ever-growing pit of corruption. There is truth in that idea. However, I don’t believe that the state of Idaho is any less corrupt than the federal government and due to our small population base, we have far fewer resources with which to protect public lands. When forest fires gobble up public and private land, it’s the federal government that steps in with resources to help. When natural disasters occur, it’s the feds who clean up the mess—wastefully maybe, but the job gets done.
The Boulder-White Clouds are our nation’s savings account. They will not continue to nourish anadromous fish and wildlife without proper care. The peace, the beauty, the experience of being cradled by 10,000 peaks will be lost if this land is carved up by mining, grazing, and off-road recreating. Only delicate balancing will protect the pristine areas while giving all of us a place to recreate and to benefit from the grace of a place that has “retained its primeval character and influence.”
If I have moved you to care, please sign the petition asking President Obama to protect the BWC as a National Monument.