Failure to pass in this Congress might improve the two Idaho "wilderness bills'

The next Congress will have to take up these bills afresh — from the start. With Democrats now in control, the Times-News opines that the bills may have to get more conservation friendly to puss muster.

Read: Delays may help both Idaho wilderness plans. Twin Falls Times-News. I have characterized these bills (and a lot of copycat bills for other states) as “wilderness designation with side payments.” These are side payments to non-wilderness and anti-wilderness folks. Unfortunately, these side payments confer real non and anti-wilderness political gifts, while all that the wilderness designation does is draw a line around an already existing area of land that is wilderness in fact, but not protected as such by law.

In terms of real conservation it’s what happens on the ground that counts, not what happens on on a map. Some conservation groups don’t recognize that, however, and end up agreeing to symbolic victories while the real, tangible, material rewards go to others.

I would propose that if these bills are to continue they need to become “wilderness designation” with sidepayments to conservation as well as non-conservation interests. For example, in CIEDRA which would designative wilderness in Idaho’s Boulder and White Clouds Mountains, the bill that passed the House has only gifts of privatized public land offered to Custer and Blaine County and gifts to off-road vehicle folks. As Representative Simpson introduced it, however, it had a buyout of grazing in the roaded East Fork of the Salmon River and also inside what would become designated wilderness. This would be a real change, not a change on paper. Simpson dropped this, however, when Richard Pombo, the committee insisted.

Pombo is now defeated, and this side payment to conservation should be added back and more side-payments should be proferred, such as a buyout of grazing in nearby Copper Basin. This is not a roadless area, but with the livestock removed, Copper Basin could become a wildlife rich area like the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone, only more scenic (which may seem impossible to hard core Lamar Valley veterans) with thousands of elk, and hundreds of moose and pronghorn, wolf packs that don’t get shot, and many more beaver than can survive under the current oppressive regime of heavy cattle and sheep grazing all the way past the timberline to the bare rock of the stunning Pioneer Mountain range (stunning if you don’t look at the ground).

Copper Basin and the Pioneer Mountains. This high mountain valley has the Pioneer Mountains (Idaho’s 2nd highest range) on three sides, and the White Knob Mountains on the other (east side). Copyright Ralph Maughan. Cattle graze the Basin and the mountains up past the timberline, all the way to the rock line. Maybe elimination of cattle could be a way to coax conservationists to support a Boulder/White Clouds Wilderness bill in the next Congress.



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  1. kt Avatar

    I think the best thing that could happen is that these Bills die and their poisonous provisions die for good. They have been VERY effective “tools” for dividing conservationists. Just suppose that this is exactly what Crapo and Simpson want. Enviros at loggerheads so more envtl Evil in Idaho slides by while we are all at loggerheads fighting over provisions of Wilderness for lands that face few threats – or in the case of the Owyhee – where the primary threat – COWS – would be made worse under legislation.

    They have dominated much newspaper coverage of wild lands, without any real focus on many other environmental concerns and probems.

    Time to work on protecting the broader body of public lands, see how things shake out in the new Congress and MOVE ON to bigger and better visions.

    Time to stop giving Crapo and Simpson “green” cover. And let the debate public focus on all the environmental destruction these guys vote for/inflict.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan