Idaho: Simpson, Crapo again push their wilderness bills

Representative Mike Simpson is reintroducing his Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act and Senator Mike Crapo his Owyhee Canyonlands bill.

Both measures failed in the last Congress, although Simpson’s CIEDRA came close to being sent to Bush’s desk.

Here is the story in today’s Idaho Statesman.Simpson, Crapo again push their wilderness bills. Lawmakers say getting legislation for Owyhees, Boulder-White Clouds passed will take a lot of work.” By Keith Ridler. The Associated Press

Both bills have stirred up a lot of contention amongst conservation groups, with some favoring and some opposing these “wilderness bills.” Many folks believe that both bills will have to become greener to clear the new Democratic congress. Some conservation groups, not to mention the many anti-conservation interests, will continue to oppose them no matter what.

I have a proposal as to how to think about these bills which might be useful for all sides of the issue.

While these two bills are often called “wilderness bills,” both measures contain many side payments to non-wilderness and anti-wilderness interests in an effort to gain their support or at least reduce their opposition. In reality, these 2 bills are a list of changes to the public land laws, not wilderness bills. Designating some wilderness is just one item on the list. That one item attracts the attention of the media, many conservation groups, and die-hard anti-wilderness groups like the Blue Ribbon Coalition.

I think interest groups would do better to list each item in each bill and assign it a + or minus score. For example a conservation groups might figure “over 300,000 acres of designated wilderness, +10;” “the wilderness is split by two off-road vehicle corridors, -2;” “public land is given to Idaho counties for development, -3;” “there is a voluntary buyout of grazing leases, +5,” etc. Each group could come up with their own score. If it is positive, support it. The more positive it is, work harder. The same is true for the negative.

Given that Congress is now greener, conservation groups should insist on a higher net positive score than last year. The additional positive points do not have to be immediately on site. They could be somewhere else in Idaho. For example, last year one payoff to off road vehicle groups was creation of a public lands sacrifice area near Boise, many miles from the White Cloud and Boulder Mountains.

On way of increasing the net positive score on CIEDRA for me would be more grazing buyouts in the general vicinity. To me the biggest problem in the area is livestock grazing in country not really suited for it, or country where grazing detracts more from the area’s value, than it adds in the way of the meager economic activity it generates.

If groups dropped their ideology for or against wilderness and thought about these bills in the way I suggest, I think a resolution might be at hand. However, as long as the groups stand on abstract principles such as “wilderness, land of no use,” or “wilderness, it most not be compromised in any way,” or “there must be transfer of some public lands to private hands simply because Custer County is already 95% public land,” this issue will go on and on and never be resolved.




  1. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    Interesting proposition, Ralph. What about an independent third party assigning point values to get a more objective “score” for the bill for a comparison, since I would think each group could tailor their point allocation to suit their values. I suppose at least then, if the points were made public, people could understand what each group values, though I am not sure if that is much of a secret anyway…

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Everyone has to assign their scores, Matt. The process is largely subjective.

    The important change in thinking is to recognize that these things are not “wilderness bills,” but a package of good things and bad things where you, or your group, decide the relative value.

    KT makes the case in her comments to “Sin City’s Water Grab,” below that Nevada enviros were tricked by the word “wilderness” into accepting massive dewatering the, coal fired power plants and other energy development as part of the package.

    I think CIEDRA is a bit better known, but the Owyhee Canyonlands is full of questions that should be asked.

    At a minimum, conservationists should be demanding more; and that “more” doesn’t just mean more acres of designated wilderness.


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