Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said last week that designating the 571,000-acre Boulder‐White Cloud Mountains as a national monument would create jobs in Custer County and provide needed protection for a uniquely beautiful region.
Brune capped off a two-week tour of the Northwest last week with a family hike to Fourth of July Lake in the White Cloud Mountains north of Ketchum, before meeting with Idaho Conservation League representatives and other monument supporters at Rotary Park in Ketchum.
Brune, who camped with his family for three nights at North Fork Campground north of Ketchum, said the Boulder-White Clouds is perhaps the most beautiful area he has seen during his many forays into primitive areas in the United States.
“This is one of the largest, most environmentally-unique and unprotected areas in the country,” Brune said. “We are making this a national priority for the Sierra Club.”
Brune said apparent bi-partisan support makes the national monument effort a likely success.
Since 1892, the Sierra Club, founded by naturalist John Muir, has succeeded in protecting 250 million acres of wilderness. The nonprofit organization boasts 2.4 million members and employs a staff of 600 who also work to move the country from dependence on fossil fuels and coal to solar, wind and hydroelectric power sources.
The Brune family hiked through a portion of the 756,000-acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area, which was established in 1972.
The proposed monument would include 328,000 acres of the existing Sawtooth National Recreation Area, and expand the protected area east into the basin of the East Fork of the Salmon River. The total proposed area of the monument is 592,000 acres.
Brune said existing mining operations, which provide jobs in Custer County, would be allowed to continue, but no new mines would be allowed if national monument status is achieved.
“For a county whose main economic engine is mining and resource extraction, I know this is frightening to say the least. But we have seen many examples of where this can lead to a more diverse economy.”
“We have made this a national priority.”
Sierra Club executive director
Matthew Kirby, a Sierra Club conservation organizer who accompanied the Brunes on their hike last week, said the establishment of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah led to improved economic conditions for area residents.
“Per-capita income has gone up across the board directly due to the monument status,” Kirby said.
Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter issued a statement on Monday blasting the national monument effort, saying he “strongly opposes and will resist any attempt by President Barack Obama to use executive authority under the Antiquities Act to lock up more public land by creating a Boulder-White Clouds national monument.”
Otter said the Idaho Department of Fish and Game no longer would be able to manage wildlife in that area, and public access would be limited if the monument was established. He said he and Congressman Mike Simpson co-sponsored a bill called the National Monument Fairness Act in 2001 that would have required the president to seek input from state and local officials prior to a monument declaration, and would have required congressional approval of any national monument designation or expansion larger than 50,000 acres.
“We must not allow a president who has spent no time in Idaho and is focused solely on pleasing environmentalists to dictate how Idaho residents use public lands,” Otter said.
A group in Custer County formed earlier this year to oppose the designation, citing diminished economic possibilities and restrictions on access. Custer County commissioners also oppose a designation.
But commissioners in Blaine County back the monument idea. The proposed national monument is in Blaine and Custer counties.
The Ketchum City Council and the Idaho Conservation League and Wilderness Society also support a national monument designation. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission is opposed.
(The AP contributed to this report.)
Tony Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org