Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said Sunday that even after a dozen years and several attempts, he hasn't given up on his dream of seeing more than 330,000 acres of land in the Boulder and White Cloud Mountains preserved eternally.
"The Boulder-White Clouds will get done," he told a group of Idaho Conservation League supporters at a conference at Redfish Lake Lodge on Sunday. "'When?' is the question."
Simpson was referring to the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, a bill commonly known as CIEDRA. The latest version of CIEDRA as heard in a Senate committee in 2010 would create three wilderness areas totaling 332,775 acres.
The Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness and the White Clouds Wilderness would consist of land from the Sawtooth and Challis national forests, while the Jerry Peak Wilderness covers land managed by the Challis District of the BLM and the Challis National Forest. More than 130,000 acres previously under consideration for wilderness designation would be released and opened to multiple use, including mountain biking.
But while the plan has garnered support from conservationist organizations including the Idaho Conservation League, the bill has been introduced without success since 2004.
Simpson said that part of the problem is the climate in the current Congress, which focuses on cutting spending, and his own trouble getting a hearing on any conservation bills.
"There is this hatred of the word 'wilderness,'" he said. "I don't know what it is, but we have difficulty getting [CIEDRA] done."
Part of the reason, Simpson said, is that the Senate—which heard the bill last time it was introduced—is "frankly dysfunctional." Simpson said there are a large number of freshman senators this year who have simply stopped working with other members of the Senate for any common cause.
"They are not working together, and that's sad," he said. "If something's not done [in the next election cycle], the Senate is going to be completely out to lunch."
"They're out to dinner now," he added with a laugh.
One possibility for finally securing a wilderness designation could be to include the Boulder-White Clouds in an end-of-year omnibus lands bill similar to the one that designated the Owyhee Wilderness in 2009.
"The lead bill for the Republicans would be the Boulder-White Clouds," he said, while the Democrats could put forward a bill from Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., that was rejected in committee last year.
Simpson's spokeswoman Nikki Watts said Monday that no such land bill is currently in progress, but that the staff considers it an option.
"In past Congresses, there have been land bills that have developed," she said. "He was speculating in the event that one is written."
Conference attendees speculated on Sunday that perhaps Simpson would consider asking President Barack Obama to use the Antiquities Act to declare the Boulder-White Clouds a national park or a monument similar to Craters of the Moon near Carey.
Simpson admitted that it was a possibility, but it wasn't his ideal solution.
"The Antiquities Act could work," he said, "But I'd rather have a wilderness area."
Watts said Simpson has never been a supporter of the Antiquities Act, and that a presidential solution was suggested by former Gov. Cecil Andrus as well.
"[Simpson] would rather work with the legislative process," she said.
As for why the Boulder and White Clouds mountains need to be preserved, Simpson simply said that being outdoors is good for the soul. In fact, he added with a laugh, he thinks Congress should convene in the Boulder-White Clouds once a week.
"It's where you get your mind back together," he said more seriously. "You need to get out and see what God created. Sometimes, I just need to get somewhere where I can use the high beams on my car."
Katherine Wutz: email@example.com