STANLEY, Idaho - A proposal for two subdivisions on private land within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, one of the nation's scenic treasures, has stirred up long-held resentments between landowners and the Forest Service.
local outfitter's plan to build 10 homes on a five-acre parcel has
prompted a cease-and-desist order from the Forest Service. Paul
Reis, manager of the Sawtooth recreation area, has called both that
development and a proposal for 20 homes on 160 acres "illegal."
Viewed as a national experiment when it was set
aside by Congress in 1972, the 754,000-acre Sawtooth was formed
with a two-fold purpose: to protect the recreational and
environmental values of the Sawtooth, White Cloud, Boulder and
Smokey mountains and to preserve open space and the "pastoral"
character of the valleys below.
subdivisions would violate the recreation area's charter, Reis
But Dan Strand, a fishing and river
outfitter, says Custer County has already approved his development,
and he does not need the Forest Service's approval. That's because
the agency never bought a scenic easement from him, he says, and in
Custer County there are no zoning
"The Forest Service tries to scare
you, but what they're doing is out and out lying," he says. "If the
government wants to condemn my property, fine. Otherwise, this is
something that shouldn't be any of their concern."
To preserve open space in the Sawtooth National
Recreation Area, the Forest Service has spent about $50 million to
buy 78 scenic easements on 90 percent of the private land. The
funding pipeline for such purchases ran dry in 1989, reflecting
intense national competition for limited funds. In the Sawtooths,
about 250 private parcels remain unencumbered by easements, and it
may cost at least $50 million to finish the
Rep. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, successfully led
efforts this year to obtain $800,000 for scenic easements to halt
development. The stop-gap measure was included in an omnibus
spending bill with the support of Idaho Republican Sens. Dirk
Kempthorne and Larry Craig, but it's a drop in the
While Idaho's congressional delegation
has vowed to deliver more funds for scenic easements, the
development conflicts raise larger issues. Although off-shore oil
drilling revenues pump about $900 million into the Land and Water
Conservation Fund every year, Congress has been siphoning the funds
for deficit reduction and other federal programs, leaving only
about $200 million a year for easements and
Bob Piva, a rancher who wants to subdivide
160 acres, says he is willing to drop his development plans in
return for a scenic easement, but $800,000 "would maybe buy one
Relations between private landowners and
the Forest Service have been increasingly strained. The Forest
Service's land-use policies are seen by some as unduly restrictive
Piva was one of several cattle
ranchers forced to reduce his herd by 66 percent in the Stanley
Basin in 1993 to protect endangered salmon and keep cows out of
campgrounds. The reductions ruined the economics of running cows in
the Stanley area, Piva says, and forced him to become a land
That decision underscores how grazing
cutbacks can result in land sales and the coming of condos - the
very thing that the Sawtooth recreation area was supposed to
On the other hand, J. Robb Brady, a
longtime landowner in the Sawtooth recreation area, says the Forest
Service hasn't been vigilant enough in monitoring new developments
and protecting scenery.
"Where I fault them is
they don't like to be policemen," Brady says. "With personnel
cutbacks, they haven't been doing enough monitoring, and I can show
you a few places where developments have been built."
Another critic is Bethine Church, the widow of
the late Sen. Frank Church, R-Idaho. In a guest editorial published
in two Idaho newspapers she called subdivisions within the federal
recreation area a "crime."
"It is exactly what
the Sawtooth National Recreation Area was created to prevent. I
can't believe Idaho's members of Congress and the U.S. Forest
Service would allow this," she wrote.
pushing for a series of summit meetings on the future of the
Sawtooth recreation area next spring. In 1997, the preserve will be
25 years old.
"The Forest Service has been caught
in a catch-22," she says. "There's got to be a way that we can
bring the people together. To me, it's a challenge for the ages."
The writer works out
of Boise, Idaho.