Conservationists were wise not to let disputes between hikers and mountain bikers get in the way of an effort seeking designation of an area that includes the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains as a national monument.
The muscle-and-bone vs. muscle-and-machine debate could have derailed the effort to protect the lake-spattered mountains. While monument designation is not a perfect solution, it’s the only way open to conservationists who’ve been blocked in efforts to protect the area by a seemingly inexhaustible supply of Idaho officials opposed to new wilderness because of an ideology that says that the federal government can do no right in our state.
Even with the prospect of some areas being open to mountain bikers, designation as a national monument would help the area more that it would hurt it by firming up its status as one of the crown jewels of the American West. It would also help put Central Idaho more firmly on the map for travelers and could help the local economy—a big plus.
We would prefer a wilderness stamp for the area, but given the choice between no additional protection beyond that afforded by U.S. Forest Service management, a monument designation is a good option for long-term protection.
The list of 106 U.S. monuments shows clearly that every monument is different For example, the nearby Craters of the Moon National Monument contains hardened paths, developed campgrounds and a gift shop, but its vast expanses will remain untarnished and largely unaltered for generations to come.
President Obama can designate a Boulder and White Clouds national monument with the stroke of a pen. He should do so.