By BOB HAYES
I am writing as a resident of the Sawtooth Valley, who led the Sawtooth Society from 1997-2009. The non-profit Sawtooth Society was formed 16 years ago by Bethine Church and others specifically to protect the 756,000-acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The comments that follow are my own, as I am no longer involved in the management of the organization.
In May, the Idaho Conservation League revealed to its members that the organization has proposed to the Obama administration that the president declare the Boulder-White Clouds region of the Sawtooth NRA a national monument. Five months later, despite requests by the Sawtooth Society, other Sawtooth NRA stakeholders and the news media for ICL to disclose the details of its proposal, the public has not been given answers to even basic questions: What is broken in the Sawtooth NRA that a monument designation can fix, which cannot be addressed by the law (PL 92-400) that created the area? Where would the monument boundaries be located? What restrictions, if any, would be put on long-established uses within the monument?
In September, at a private residence in the Sawtooth Valley, ICL hosted what was billed as an information session regarding its monument proposal. Speaking to upwards of 100 invitees, ICL’s executive director talked in general terms about his organization’s aims, but refrained from offering specifics. Several days later, I participated with ICL’s executive director and the head of the Wood River Bike Coalition in a broadcast on KRBX radio in Boise. Again, ICL’s representative did not disclose his group’s specific intentions for a monument. To their credit, ICL has made one meaningful commitment: The organization has promised that it would ask the Obama administration to guarantee that any monument proclamation would preserve the primacy of the law that created the Sawtooth NRA, and which has served the area so well for more than 40 years.
Those who are currently promoting monument status for the area are understandably frustrated by the failure of Congress to pass Rep. Mike Simpson’s wilderness bill and are seeking an alternative resolution. But I also know this: A presidentially-declared monument proclamation cannot create wilderness; only Congress can. Unless great care is taken, a presidential proclamation designating monument status for any part of the Sawtooth NRA could have unintended and unwanted consequences on this iconic area. Adverse consequences could include: damage to the area’s fragile natural resources resulting from a sharp increase in the number of visitors; inadequate funding for infrastructure to accommodate such an increase in the number of visitors; potential conflicts between current regulations that govern the area and those that would govern a monument; as well as potential legal challenges and the long-term disruption they would cause.
Hence, it is imperative that any monument proposal be carefully scrutinized to ensure that it avoids unintended and adverse consequences to the Sawtooth NRA, that it considers the interests of all area stakeholders, and that the process is open and transparent. Thus far, none of these conditions have been met. I hope that all who care about the Sawtooth NRA will insist that monument advocates detail their proposal for all to see.
Let’s be certain that we don’t wake up one morning to open our newspaper or turn on our radio or television to learn that a monument is a done deal, brokered behind closed doors. Thanks to the visionary leaders who fought to create the Sawtooth NRA more than four decades ago, our backyard is home to a national treasure and Idaho’s crown jewel. Let’s make sure that any new effort does not undo what has been accomplished.
Bob Hayes, a longtime leader of the nonprofit Sawtooth Society, lives in the Sawtooth Valley.