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Know the West

A wilderness bill with a little something for everyone


Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, "A New Dialogue for Idaho."

For wilderness advocates:
If passed, the Central Idaho Economic Development Act would create two new wilderness areas in the Boulder-White Cloud mountains, separated only by a narrow dirt-bike trail. The Ernest Hemingway/Jerry Peak Wilderness, above the famous writer’s old home in Ketchum, would protect 219,400 acres of peaks, forest and sagebrush. The 74,700-acre White Clouds Wilderness would protect alpine lakes, peaks and forests. It would kick motorized dirt bikes off two key trails (Fourth of July Lake and the West Fork of the East Fork of the Salmon River) and sections of other trails. Bicyclists would be banned from about 70 miles of high trails. Much of the wilderness would become cow-free as federal money becomes available to buy out ranchers’ permits.

For local communities:
The bill would give about 2,200 acres of federal lands to Custer County, Blaine County, and four small towns (Challis, Stanley, Mackay and Clayton). Most of the land would likely be sold for development. The bill might give additional small parcels to counties and the state for recreation developments. And Custer County would get a $5 million grant for "sustainable economic development."

For ranchers:
The bill would authorize $7 million to buy out the grazing permits of any rancher in the area who wants to sell. At an estimated rate of $300 per Animal Unit Month, that’s high enough to be attractive to ranchers. About 30,000 AUMs on a million acres would be eligible.

For off-road drivers:
The bill would keep open the dirt-bike trail along Germania Creek that divides the wilderness areas. It would reopen a five-mile road to Herd Lake campground, which was blocked by a 1983 landslide. It would also allow off-road drivers to keep using most trails outside the wilderness. It would authorize more federal money to construct "motorized recreation parks" on a total of 1,200 acres of federal land near Boise, Twin Falls, Idaho Falls and Pocatello. And $1 million would go to Idaho’s off-road vehicle program, for buying and improving more sites.

For bureaucrats:
The bill would designate several hundred thousand acres of federal land, basically a ring around the wilderness areas, as the Boulder-White Cloud Management Area, to be overseen by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The bill says motorized vehicles in this area would be limited to existing routes, but it adds that the secretaries of Interior and Agriculture could put in new roads for "access to recreation areas." Backers of the bill say that any new roads would only go to existing campgrounds and picnic areas. Critics say the bill could allow new roads extending anywhere in this area. Also, the bill would authorize $5 million to buy out pockets of private land inside the management area.

Odds and ends:
To satisfy helicopter-skiers, the bill would leave the high country of the North Fork of the Big Wood River outside the wilderness boundaries. It would also build new trails for bicycles, snowmobiles, and disabled hikers, and authorize more money for a state historic park.