The Sawtooth National Recreation Area is the heart of Idaho, with its delicate peaks, crashing creeks and lakes.
Wealthy ranch-owner Michael Boren has installed an airstrip on his ranch in the center of the Sawtooth Valley that stabs it in the heart.
In the face of massive opposition, Custer County officials green-lighted the strip, but they should not be the last word on it.
The airstrip violates the letter and intent of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area Act with which the U.S. Congress created the area in 1972. It also violates regulations that flowed from the act that govern private property in the area.
The act stated that creation of the SNRA was to “assure the preservation and protection of the natural, scenic, historic, pastoral, and fish and wildlife values and to provide for the enhancement of the recreation values associated therewith . . . .”
Nowhere did it state that the SNRA was to be a personal fly-in, fly-out mountain paradise for plane-owning individuals. If that had been the intent, the bill’s authors wouldn’t have used the word “pastoral.” The buzzing of planes and helicopters is not in any definition of the word.
The SNRA already has two public airstrips that existed when it was created. One is in Stanley and the other in Smiley Creek. However, they apparently don’t meet Boren’s needs.
The Challis Messenger quoted him during a public hearing on the matter saying, “I don’t want to park my aircraft at a public facility or out in the rain. I want to protect it.”
A newly formed group of property owners near his ranch recently filed an appeal of the county decision to approve the airstrip. The appeal pointed out that it was made with no analysis from public agencies—a grievous deficiency.
The act that established the SNRA made the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture responsible for managing it. Within the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Forest Service does the job.
The near absence of the Forest Service from the controversy to date is inexcusably negligent. The federal government spent millions of dollars protecting viewsheds. Its silence threatens that public investment.
Idaho’s senators and congressional representatives have also been eerily silent.
In 1972, Idahoans backed the area to become a national recreation area instead of a national park in order to balance recreation and resource values.
The secretary of Agriculture, the USFS and Idaho leaders should not silently condone destruction of this precious place for the convenience of a wealthy individual—or anyone else.
“Our View” represents the opinion of the newspaper editorial board, which is made up of members of its board of directors. Remarks may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.