Boulder-White Clouds

The night sky at the boundary of the White Clouds Wilderness near Sunbeam Dam on Sept. 1 east of Stanley.

STEPHEN REISS, TIMES-NEWS photos

STANLEY • Dirk Kempthorne first suggested protecting the Boulder-White Clouds via a national monument when he was Secretary of the Interior under President George W. Bush.

The idea really caught on, though, when former Gov. Cecil Andrus proposed it in 2010. Some conservation and outdoor recreation groups took it up a few years later, largely in reaction to the failure of U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson’s wilderness bill.

In early 2015, President Barack Obama’s staff told Simpson, R-Idaho, who had been pushing legislation to create a new wilderness area there for more than 10 years, that Obama might declare a national monument if Simpson couldn’t get his bill passed in six months.

Obama has demonstrated a willingness to do just that; he used the Antiquities Act to protect almost 2.2. million acres, more than any other president. People on all sides of the issue acknowledge that the possibility of a monument declaration helped to get Simpson’s bill through.

The proposed monument would have covered more than twice the area that Simpson’s final bill did and was drawn to protect more of the Salmon River’s watershed, said Blaine County Commissioner Jacob Greenberg.

Stanley City Council President Steve Botti said people’s opinions in town ran the gamut: wilderness, monument, more protection, less protection.

There were also many people who didn’t like either idea, Botti said, but “the wilderness bill was more of a known quantity” because regulations for wilderness are spelled out in law. There are no rules for what is and isn’t allowed in a national monument, and some people worried that the management plan might not take local input enough into account.

“That scared a lot of people,” Botti said.

Dani Mazzotta, who works in the Idaho Conservation League’s Ketchum office, said the organization doubted at first that Simpson’s bill would pass this time, and were surprised to see it not only pass, but so quickly and without opposition.

“We were very skeptical,” she said. “But one thing was pretty clear: By the end of the year it was going to be either a wilderness protected by a bill passed by Congress, or it was going to be protected as a national monument protected by presidential proclamation.”

Passed in 1906, the Antiquities Act lets the president, by proclamation, protect public lands as national monuments. Monument declarations often have been controversial throughout the act’s history. Presidents Bill Clinton and Obama have used the act to protect large tracts of land in the West, in both cases leading to opposition from congressional Republicans and area residents leery about increased restrictions. Idaho’s U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Raul Labrador introduced legislation this year requiring both congressional and state approval before the president could declare a national monument. Both said at the time that the potential for a Boulder-White Clouds monument was part of the reason.

The Stanley City Council ended up not taking a stand on the monument idea but said it wanted to be involved in creating the management plan, should one be created. Ultimately, Botti said, the final Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act will help the city address a longstanding problem; it gives Stanley a few acres on which to build work force housing.

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“Because that was in the bill, it made the bill much more acceptable to the people in the area here,” he said.

Crapo said he worried that a national monument would have led to a worse outcome, and he was glad the state avoided “the heavy hand of the federal government driving this.”

“People in Idaho need to be involved,” he said.

Now that the wilderness bill has passed, Greenberg said, the monument push is over.

“There’s no more impetus to try to get national monument status,” Greenberg said. “That’s done.”

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