Following President Barack Obama’s signing of a Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill Friday, public lands managers say they will begin citing willful violations of wilderness there, though their main emphasis this summer and fall will be on public education.
The Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act was passed by the Senate last week after having been approved by the House of Representatives on July 27.
The bill creates three new wilderness areas totaling 431 square miles.
“This is a remarkable area,” Obama said at the signing. “It is not only beautiful, but it’s also an important economic engine for the state—attracting tourism, creating jobs. And thanks to the work of a broad-based coalition of folks in Idaho, but spearheaded here in Congress by Congressman Mike Simpson, who was able to receive not a single ‘no’ vote—which does not happen often in the House of Representatives—something that folks have been working on for quite some time is going to be reality.”
The Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness (106 square miles) and the White Clouds Wilderness (142 square miles) will be managed as part of the Sawtooth National Recreational Area. The 183-square-mile Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness covers 145 square miles of national forest land and 37 square miles of BLM land on the east side of the White Clouds. Each agency will continue to manage its portion.
Though the bill gives the Forest Service and BLM three years to draft wilderness management plans, wilderness restrictions went into effect immediately upon the president’s signature.
“They are wilderness areas, and motorized and mechanized uses are not allowed in wilderness areas,” SNRA Area Ranger Kirk Flannigan said. “However, we understand that these are new things for folks.”
Flannigan said the SNRA expects to have temporary signs posted this fall at trailheads that lead into the wilderness areas, and an interim wilderness management plan should be drafted by next summer.
“We’re excited to have some new wilderness areas to manage, and to work with Blaine County and Custer County to develop new wilderness plans,” he said.
Though the popular Fisher Creek-Williams Creek biking trail is outside the wilderness boundary, trails used by mountain bikers in the central White Clouds are within it. The wilderness bill was opposed by the Wood River Bicycle Coalition, which advocated for national monument designation instead.
Sturtevants owner Olin Glenn said the Ketchum sports store’s shuttle service will no longer transport bikers to trailheads that lead into the newly designated wilderness areas. Those include the Antz Basin and Castle Divide trails in the White Clouds.
Four wilderness study areas of BLM land on the east side of the East Fork of the Salmon River, just north of the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness, are released to multiple use. Those are the Jerry Peak West Wilderness Study Area, the Corral-Horse Basin Wilderness Study Area and the Boulder Creek Wilderness Study Area. Along with Forest Service-recommended wilderness not included in the wilderness bill, they total 242 square miles. That’s up 36 square miles released from Simpson’s original Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, whose released areas totaled 206 square miles.
Sarah Wheeler, public affairs officer for the BLM’s Idaho Falls District, said there will be no immediate management changes for the wilderness study areas, where off-road motorized use is prohibited. She said the agency will eventually draft an amended travel-management plan for the areas.
In testimony before the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands, the Forest Service supported designation of the wilderness areas. According to a press release from the Salmon-Challis National Forest, most of the national forest land designated as wilderness was recommended for wilderness designation in forest management plans dating as far back as 1987.
The compromise legislation was supported by motorized users.
“We worked very closely with Congressman Simpson to draw those boundaries so that all the snowmobile and motorcycle areas would not be included,” said Sandra Mitchell, executive director of the Idaho Recreation Council.
But Lynne Stone, executive director of the Boulder-White Clouds Council, a local conservation group, called passage of the bill “bittersweet,” saying it gave up too much territory to motorized use. She said that even though trails in the heart of the White Clouds are closed to motorcycles and mountain bikes, those uses will be allowed on the initial parts of those trails.
“The boundaries on the west side of the White Clouds are really sliced and diced,” she said. “That’s because the Sawtooth National Forest wouldn’t manage their recommended wilderness as wilderness. The neighboring Challis National Forest did choose to [do that], so we have decent boundaries in the Jerry Peak Wilderness.”
Idaho Conservation League Executive Director Rick Johnson said the Jerry Peak Wilderness contains some of the best summer and winter wildlife habitat in the state.
Under the new law, grazing on wilderness land will be allowed to continue. However, the law authorizes the donation of grazing permits on allotments that are all or partially within an area bounded by state Highway 75 on the west and north, U.S. Highway 93 on the east and Trail Creek Road on the south. According to the Hailey-based conservation group Western Watersheds Project, that could affect as much as 700,000 acres.
The organization stated in a press release that private foundations, including the Sagebrush Habitat Conservation Fund, are willing to pay grazing permittees in exchange for their voluntary retirement of grazing permits.
“This type of payment incentivizes the protection of resources that is achieved by permanent retirement of livestock grazing and can provide a substantial payout for ranchers who desire to give up their public land grazing permits,” Western Watersheds Project stated in its press release.
Josh Osher, the organization’s public policy coordinator, said donating permits under such a program allows ranchers who want to retire to hold on to their base property without forfeiting the value of the permits.
The Sagebrush Habitat Conservation Fund was formed in 2010 as the result of a legal settlement between Western Watersheds Project and a pipeline company. The company agreed to give the fund $15 million over 10 years to be used for voluntary conservation projects in sagebrush habitat. Former Western Watersheds Executive Director Jon Marvel is vice president of the fund, and former Blaine County Commissioner Tom Blanchard is secretary/treasurer.
Marvel said that since the fund’s inception, he has been in discussions with numerous ranchers about use of the fund money.
“I know there’s interest,” he said.
Referring to the ranchers, ICL Director Johnson said, “This wasn’t our idea—it was their idea.” He said his organization also has “well-grounded commitments” from people who want to donate toward retirement of grazing permits.
The remarkably quick passage of the wilderness bill through a Republican-led Congress was motivated in part by the potential of a presidential national monument proclamation, which could have covered about double the acreage. In an interview during a celebration party for the wilderness designation at the Sawtooth Brewery in Ketchum on Monday, Johnson said the national monument idea is dead. He said neither conservationists nor the Obama administration have any interest in pursuing it—a fact that was made clear by administration officials at the signing Friday.
“There’s no question that they’re moving on,” he said.
Greg Moore: firstname.lastname@example.org