In 2004, Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, R, introduced a bill to protect nearly 300,000 acres of alpine terrain in Idaho’s Boulder Mountains and White Cloud Peaks. Simpson’s wilderness proposal drew criticism from both sides; some thought it protected too little and others too much. Eventually, though, it gained the support of many conservationists, and at one point, Idaho’s entire congressional delegation. Still, it languished, and when a particularly conservative Republican cohort took the U.S. House in 2010, its prospects dimmed again: The gridlocked 112th Congress was the first since 1966 to not designate any new wilderness (“Wilderness bills languish in legislative limbo,” HCN, 3/5/12).
In early August, Congress finally protected 275,000 acres in the Boulder-White Clouds, nudged by the possibility that the Obama administration would create an even larger national monument if Congress didn’t act. The wilderness bill had the support of Idaho lawmakers, environmentalists and even motorized groups, who will maintain access to certain areas excluded from the bill.