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House Passes Simpson’s Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness Bill

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Boulder-White Clouds

BOISE • The House of Representatives Monday voted to approve Rep. Mike Simpson’s Boulder-White Clouds bill without opposition.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will vote on the identical Senate version this week.

The bill would designate 275,665 acres in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains and the Jerry Peak as wilderness.

The bill has the support of a diverse list of groups, including the Sawtooth Society, the Custer County Commission, East Fork of the Salmon River Ranchers, the Idaho Farm Bureau, the Idaho Cattle Association, Idaho Outfitters and Guides, the Pew Charitable Trust, the Idaho Conservation League, the Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club and the Idaho Recreation Council, which represents motorcycle and snowmobile riders.

“Congressman Simpson’s leadership on protecting the Boulder-White Clouds is something sorely needed in Washington right now and we commend his ability to move this bill cleanly through the process,” said Craig Gehrke, Idaho director with The Wilderness Society. “It’s now up to the U.S. Senate to demonstrate that it can finally resolve this decades-long debate.”

Wilderness areas prohibit use of motorized devices, including bicycles. The main groups still opposed to the bill are mountain bikers who want two alpine trails they use — Ants Basin and Castle Divide — left open. They were in the White Clouds recently to rally support for the larger national monument. And other groups say they prefer a 500,000-acre national monument that would have less strict protections but protect the entire East Fork of the Salmon River watershed.

Republican Idaho Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo have expressed support for the bill, which has had a hearing in a Senate committee, but not a vote. It’s not yet clear how the bill will move forward in the Senate. Risch has said he’s optimistic he can get it through the Senate and has got a vote in committee on the bill but it doesn’t necessarily need a committee vote.

It also could become a part of a package of similar public land bills, which could delay final passage to the fall.

But Rick Johnson, a bill supporter as executive director of the Idaho Conservation League, remains wary and still is pushing for the Obama administration to designate a 500,000-acre national monument.

“We remain skeptical that the Senate will pass the bill,” Johnson said in a blog after the bill passed the House.

Simpson said he’s hopeful.

“I am extremely optimistic that we will continue to move this legislation forward to become law,” Simpson said.

Other parts of the bill would transfer four acres from the federal government to the city of Stanley for affordable housing for local workers. Other parcels of land will be conveyed to Custer and Blaine counties and rural communities for public purposes such as cemeteries, water towers and waste-transfer sites.

Ranchers, facing reductions in grazing, would be allowed to retire grazing allotments in exchange for money from a third party. Grants to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area will pay for trail maintenance and improvements; primitive wheelchair access to two existing trails; and acquiring land to build a bike and snowmobile access trail between Redfish Lake and Stanley. Custer County would get $1 million already authorized upon passage of the bill.

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