Rockies wilderness bill gets mixed reviews at House hearing

The House Natural Resources committee gave NREPA, the Northern Rockies ecoystem protection act it’s first hearing yesterday.

You will read objections of people like Idaho governor Butch Otter, and Montana’s lone U.S. Representative Denny Rehberg. These people have opposed much smaller efforts too, even those with lots of local backing.

On the other hand, objections from possible, but not currently likely winning U.S. Senator candidate Larry LaRocco running for the seat of Idaho’s most “famous” senator are more significant because of his party (Democrat).

The comments by Idaho Republican congressman Mike Simpson are encouraging in that many say NREPA is really designed to make smaller efforts, like Simpson’s, politically feasible.

Story. Rockies wilderness bill gets mixed reviews at House hearing. Singer Carole King addresses Congressional committee. By Erika Bolstad –

Note: Songwriter and singer Carole King has lived in Idaho at the Robinson Bar Ranch, upstream from Clayton for many years.



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  1. Mike Avatar

    It’s only controversial because a few politicians beholden to anti-conservation groups raised their voice the loudest.

    If you ran a poll across the U.S., this legislation would be approved by at least 65-85% of the nation. This is after all, federal land.

    Be careful not to repeat their talking points.

  2. willynilly Avatar

    This is actually the second hearing. It had one in the mid-1990s.

    If the politicians actually looked at the language they would realize the positive economic implications. NREPA takes the idea of “restoration” economy and puts it into motion. In places like the Idaho Panhandle there are more than 500,000 acres of lands that would be part of a National Wildland Recovery System, employing local contractors to road-rip, remove culverts, and restore degraded watersheds.

    Check out Wild Idaho North this Saturday in Sandpoint, Idaho. There will be some lively discussion including some from Mike Crapo about good and bad of wilderness “collaboration.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I hadn’t heard of Wild Idaho North until just now, but a quick web search brought up this link to what WillyNilly is referring to.

    Regarding the economics of Wilderness, I think the issue is like wolves. In both cases economics is discussed as if it mattered, but the issue is primarily cultural.

    That’s why ranchers hate designated Wilderness even though the Wilderness Act gives them incredible “grandfather rights” inside a new Wilderness area.

    During my days of seriously working for Wilderness in Idaho, I found that most consistent opponents were not mining or timber, but ranchers. You could make a deal with the former two, but since Wilderness does not harm ranchers in any way economically, there was no basis for a deal. They were just plain “agin” it and the people who wanted it. That’s why the many scenic timber poor and often unmineralized ranges of East Central Idaho and Eastern Idaho never have been classified Wilderness — ranchers.

    Now, of course, the Blue Ribbon Coalition has emerged, and my experience is that compromise with them is impossible. They have a no more wilderness stance even if no vehicles use the area.

  4. montucky Avatar

    I was appalled by the statement of Montana’s Senator Baucus quoted in an A.P. story in today’s Kalispell paper “The Daily Interlake”: “This bill misses the mark by a long shot,” Baucus said. “Montanans don’t take kindly to people on the East Coast telling us how to manage our lands.” The bill concerns Federal lands, not Montana lands. And of course, Montana’s only Representative, Denny Rehberg, squealed like a rat with its tail in a trap, as he usually does when the subject of this bill comes up.

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Folks in Montana should flat tell Senator Baucus that this is bullshit, even if they don’t support NREPA.

    This tactic is used all too often. It is very similar to the tactic of those who say if you criticize President Bush’s war policies you are not a real American.

    Baucus, another rancher politician, has had a tendency to do this over the years.

  6. montucky Avatar

    Actually, Ralph, I told him this in an e-mail this morning: “May I remind you that the lands referred to in this bill do not belong exclusively to Montana, rather, they are Federal lands and belong to all of the citizens of the United States and therefore are a legitimate concern for ‘people on the East Coast’ as well as we who call ourselves Montanans. As a native Montana myself, I find your statement inaccurate, offensive, ineffective and embarrassing.”

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    That’s exactly what he needs to hear.

    I think contacting Denny Rehberg would be a waste, but here in Idaho, I, nevertheless, send emails to Crapo and Craig (well not Craig anymore).

    I’m curious, did Senator Tester say anything?

  8. montucky Avatar

    I also think anything to Rehberg would fall or deaf ears, although I did send an inquiry to his opponent in the next election, Bill Kennedy.

    Tester made a toned down comment, quoted by AP: “Tester said he supports “programs that ensure that Montana’s ranchers, outdoorsmen, the logging industry, and conservationists all have a seat at the table.”

  9. Mike Avatar

    Not only is the BRC against wilderness, but they want to roll back wilderness that is already created.

  10. JB Avatar

    Reminds me of Dick Cheney’s squealing on behalf of Wyoming ranchers when wolves were initially reintroduced in Yellowstone.

    Moreover, the last time I checked, it wasn’t just people on the “East Coast” that were advocating Wilderness preservation. Baucus’ comments are clearly meant to polarize the issue, which is exactly what ought not to be done.

    I’m sooo sick of f@$#king politicians and there inflamatory rhetoric. Give your lips a rest and try doing some actual work. Sheesh.

  11. be Avatar

    LaRocco’s quoted response was especially disheartening. ~ go figure ~

  12. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Idaho used to elect Democrats as well as Republicans, but since 1994 it has been all Republicans.

    Yes the Republicans have been on the upswing, but I know a lot of people here in Pocatello who say if they want a Republican they will vote for one who runs under that label, not a “Republican lite” who calls him or herself a Democrat.

    I used to give money to and work for Idaho Democrats. In 2006, I gave $200 to Jerry Brady in Idaho and that was it for Idaho.

    Most of my campaign giving money went to help defeat Richard Pombo in California.

    If we get a real Democrat to run in Idaho, I’ll help.

  13. JB Avatar

    Okay, I’ll take a stab at creating some debate, as everyone appears to be in favor of this…

    Generally I’m all for more wilderness, but designating huge segments of the west as wilderness has major implications for more than just the mining & timber industries. When land managed by the FS, NPS, or USFWS is designated as wilderness, the agency begins a planning process that includes zoning for recreation. Under the current system, all wilderness must be designated as either primitive or semi-primitive and the FS/NPS would limit the number of visitors by requiring permits for visits to these areas.

    So, long story short, designating very large tracts of lands in the GYE as wilderness would not only effectively exclude ATVs or ORVs, but may exclude many other types of recreation and may make getting to a desirable area hard (have to wait for a permit). Anyone who has tried to get a permit to run the wilderness section of the Colorado knows what I’m talking about.

    I’m all for acquiring more private land to add on to existing parks and forests in the GYE. I’m also for limiting timber harvesting, mining, ATVs, grazing, and other potentially damaging practices; however, sweeping wilderness designation is not a good idea if you want to actually have a chance to enjoy your public lands. (Note, I’m not against more wilderness, but let’s temper this a bit and leave this designation for the truly wild places).

    Just my opinion,

    Disclaimer: I’ve not read the proposed bill, so my comments are based on what I’ve read in press releases/news articles.

  14. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    JB, Thanks for commenting.

    You have the Wilderness Act and its provisions a bit mixed up with some other laws and administrative actions public land agencies take or might take.

    Designated Wilderness areas, that is, those created by Act of Congress, do not generally require permits to enter.

    The land managing agency can start requiring permits if use is “too high,” but most of the Wilderness areas in the interior West, such as all of them in Idaho require no permit to enter, camp, etc. In the GYE you don’t need a permit to enter the Washakie Wilderness, the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, the Bridger Wilderness and so on.

    A plan for managing the Wilderness will be drawn up, but it deals with more than just recreation use in the area, rather all resources, such as how to deal with noxious weeds?

    Public lands that are not designated wilderness also have management plans, such as a national forest plan. So there is nothing unique about a wilderness area eventually getting a management plan.

    The requirement that you need a permit to run some rivers is not that they are part of a wilderness area, but because popular rivers need a plan as campsites and put-in sites are often physically limited.

    I know the Middle Fork of the Salmon in Idaho. There are just so many sandbars for boaters to camp on. Demand exceeds this fixed natural supply of sandbars. Therefore, a permit is required so parties are not stranded on the rocks for the night or even engaging in a fist fight for possession of a sand bar.

  15. Jean Ossorio Avatar
    Jean Ossorio

    Ralph, thanks for the clarification. Down here in Mexican wolf country (the Gila NF in NM and the Apache NF in NM), no permits are required to enter wilderness areas. Use is generally light–on some trails you can hike all day without seeing another human. Even on holiday weekends in the Bearwallow Wilderness, a small gem of a wilderness in AZ, you don’t need a permit to join a few dozen anglers, hikers, backpackers, horsemen and women, and wildlife watchers enjoying their favorite recreational activities.

    I believe a few of New Mexico’s wilderness areas up north, near larger metropolitan areas like Albuquerque/Santa Fe do require permits at times, but this is due to very high demand that puts a strain on fragile alpine ecosystems. The only time I’ve seen closures in the Gila and Apache have been closures of particular trails due to recent fire damage.

  16. Jean Ossorio Avatar
    Jean Ossorio

    Oops, should have said the Apache NF in AZ.

  17. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    The realities of dealing with our growing population are not pretty and, in years to come, will probably become quite ugly.

    As my late father used to say, “The good Lord’s not making any more land.”

    From the article: “It would authorize a land restoration program that would create thousands of jobs.”

    I’m madly in love with Gloria Flora (she’s married). I once heard her present and she demonstrated the size of her heart because she spoke of the compassion we must demonstrate for those of us in the mountainous west that have lost jobs and who will lose jobs in the future and for those of us that are reluctant to change their thinking and lifestyles, etc. She spoke of the necessity of instituting a massive shift from relying on extractive industries to tourism, etc., and the necessity of training programs to ease the shift. Gloria Flora, I send you my thoughts and prayers of the highest order.

    Is anyone aware of any comments from opposing reps about the land restoration program? Why is it so many of our politicos offer 19th century solutions to 21st century problems?

    From the article, opposing politicos would include:

    Rep. Bill Sali
    Gov. Butch Otter
    Rep. Mike Simpson
    Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers
    Rep. Dennis Rehberg
    Rep. Rob Bishop

    I must confess (I hated to go there) I did a quick check of my House “Representative’s” page, Barbara Cubin, and could not find a comment from her about NREPA. Cubin is nothing more than a prostitute for the oil and gas industries – she is one of the largest recipients of oil and gas PAC monies and receives more campaign contributions from out of state than in-state. She did say she’s trying to “keep American beef safe for consumers.” Thanks, bitch. And I’m sure those that suffer from E. coli found in their beef thank you too.

    Remember, you can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.

    Sorry for the acidic tone.

    I must stop.

  18. JB Avatar


    A bit more clarification: I wasn’t speaking specifically about the Wilderness Act, but generally about what could happen if these areas are all designated as wilderness under the Act. Also, I understand that there are many laws that affect how the planning is undertaken (for instance NEPA, and NFMA) and also that plans cover more than just recreation. In fact, what I’m talking about is not governed by law, but by internal FS and NPS policy. Still, I may be wrong about the details, so please correct me if that’s the case!

    Here’s the scenario I envisioned when I made the comments above:

    1- Congress designates large parts of GYE as Wilderness.
    2- This change in designation of public land initiates a new planning process for FS/NPS (this happens because the goal of wilderness management–providing “outstanding opportunities for solitude”–is different from the goals of managing parks and forests (recreation, timber harvest, etc.).

    Let comment inside your comment post, so what I write might be easier to follow.

    3- Under the Forest Service’s current policy (and I believe the Park Service as well), all land that is designated as wilderness must be zoned as either “primitive” or “semi-primitive non-motorized” (SPNM).

    There are several criteria associated with these zoning classifications (i.e. remoteness, size, evidence of humans, use density, and noticeability of management activities). The one in particular that concerns me is use density. Currently, lands designated as “primitive” should have encounter rates of less than 6 parties a day–lands designated as SPNM allow for 6 to 15 encounters per day. When encounter rates exceed these numbers (this is determined by administering surveys to users), then current policy is to control use via requiring permits.

    These you mention above are management zone categories for national forest plans where they are planning to maintain parts of that national forest that have NOT been designated by Congress as Wilderness, but yet are in fact pretty much undeveloped, in various conditions.

    Wilderness areas do require some planning, but actually much less than non-wilderness where many uses need to be accommodated and adjusted.

    Here is a link to the management plan for the Frank Church Wilderness, the largest national forest Wilderness in the lower 48 states. Notice how “thin” it is compared to any national forest plan. Moreover, almost all the material in it deals with non-wilderness uses that got “grandfathered,” such as backcountry airstrips.

    In perhaps the vast majority of the area we’re talking about use density would not be an issue. But in many places (especially the most popular/scenic), it would be, and the response would be to require permits–an action that I oppose except in extremely high-density areas.

    I doubt you have to worry about that in Wyoming. The Wilderness areas that might possibly require permits are already designated — the Bridger Wilderness in the Wind River Range. Grand Teton National Park IS NOT designated wilderness, but overnight camping in the Teton Range has long been by permit only. It doesn’t take Wilderness designation, therefore, to impose very strict use regulations.

    [Long exhale] I could add a lot more, but am (and was) trying to keep my comments short. The point is, there are policy implications to wilderness designation that go well beyond restrictions on oil, mining, and atv/orv use. Designating large tracts of land as wilderness may restrict your access and the types of activities that you can undertake there. I think people should be aware of this.

    I can’t think of any. Since these roadless areas are already undeveloped, and have to be that way in order to be designated Wilderness, what kind of access restrictions would have to be imposed? They might say, for example, say “now that this is designated Wilderness, we will have to clear the trails by handsaw rather than power saw. But that is not a restriction on visitors, but rather on the managers.

    Anyway, sorry for the long response. I hope this clarifies things a bit!



  19. JB Avatar


    The link you sent was just a table of contents, quite sparse indeed when compared to your average forest management plan! 😉 However, it does illustrate that the designations I mentioned ARE in fact used in wilderness planning (not just NF management plans). From link:

    “Table 2.4. Acres by ROS Class in the FC-RONRW……………………………………………….. 2-46”

    The classifications I mentioned (primitive, SPNM) are part of the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (or ROS). This system of zoning used by the FS (and a similar system is used by the Park Service) to plan for recreation on all of the public lands they manage (or at least those they’ve got around to developing management plans for in the last decade).

    The kind of restrictions I’m talking about might include:
    1- Restrictions on the number of people allowed on a trail via permits (already mentioned).
    2- Restrictions of the sizes of groups allowed to enter an area–again via permits.
    3- Use restrictions including camping only at designated campsites (in use in the Boundary Waters).
    4- Restrictions on the type of uses allowed (e.g. no motorized transportation, no horses on trail x, no mountain bikes on trail y, no dogs allowed, etc.).
    5- Restrictions on entry points into the wilderness (currently in use in the Boundary Waters).

    Of course, these restrictions are not unique to wilderness areas–as you noted, the FS uses these designations in non-wilderness areas as well. All I’m saying is that the Wilderness designation is more restrictive and could limit recreation opportunities in the future.

    Here check out some of the restrictions in place in the Boundary Waters Wilderness (the one that started it all): Note, the permitting in Boundary Waters was the reason I brought this up in the first place.


  20. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Maybe I’M wrong about that link I put in my comment. There is the table of contents for each chapter, but also at the top is a hyperlink that gives you the actual chapter. Then there are a lot of appendices. Isn’t that all of it?

    Anyway, I remember the planning process for the biggest wilderness didn’t amount to much except for two big issues — aircraft landings and float allocation down the canyon of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

    The latter was not really a wilderness controversy. It was the result of too many floaters compared to the physical possibility of camping at night due to the structure of the canyon. On top of that there was what portion of paid outfitted trips versus private floats was the fair one?

    I don’t know much about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area except that while it is part of the Wilderness system its issues and location have always made it sort of a one-of-a-kind thing.

    Maybe I have used Wilderness areas in Idaho and Wyoming too long, but I have never encountered any entry restrictions due to the fact it is a designated Wilderness other than the standard prohibitions that Wilderness is meant to establish, like no motor vehicles.

    The restrictions that get me — worry and anger me — are the growing entry fees to public lands.

  21. JB Avatar


    Ahh, I didn’t see the links to the individual chapters…got it.

    You’re right, in one sense I’m comparing apples with oranges–the Boundary Waters does have some unique issues–however, permits and for that matter entrance fees are not unique in the wilderness system.

    The areas you’re talking about are some of the most remote in the lower 48, which *I think* is why there haven’t been these kind of restrictions in the past. I’m try to look ahead to what seems inevitable to me as the population of the West expands–that is, a system of filling out permits and/or paying fees to enter into the area. Of course, the FS/NPS can do this without the wilderness designation as well.

    In one sense, making these areas Wilderness would ensure their protection, which I am all for! On the other hand, I think it could hurt access over the long term. Maybe not now, or not even in the next 20 years, but if we don’t get a handle on this expansion, it could soon turn into a Boundary Waters or a Grand Canyon type scenario.

    I’m glad you brought up the fees because this is a huge pet peeve of mine as well. Having lived for a time in northern Utah, I absolutely loved the unequivocal access to the national forest. Part of what makes a wilderness (or any *wild* land) special is being able to enter on a whim and walk where one pleases. In my mind, having to fill out a permit or remember to bring $5 to stuff in an envelope box at the park/forest entrance takes away from the experience.

    Anyway, I’ll shut up for a while and listen to what others have to say.


  22. Craig Avatar

    Thanks for the blog everyone. Informative and interesting.
    What is interesting to me is the conflict between the legal/political structure and the reality of ecosystems.

    In the US the general public do not encounter the negative environmental results that result when humans attempt to “manage” ecosystems via business or technology. And it is only when major problems result (Love Canal, Exxon Valdez) that “real” action in recognition of our own impacts upon ourselves takes place. We really do believe that we can create products and landscapes that won’t have impacts – quite laughable. A prime example is WorldBank funding of water projects in arid or semi-arid regions of India. Indigenous peoples had created water systems that worked for centuries. Civilized engineers came in and added high tech well and dam systems that many times ended up salinizing the land, displacing populations, and mined-out the water resources (acquifers can take a long time to recharge). [See writings by Vandana Shiva for many details on India’s issues with Western business and technology.]

    The reality is that ecosystem processes are a constraint upon life, and this is barely recognized by Western Property-oriented politicial/legal systems . Does a community have a right to water? Or can an entity own it and sell it? The same goes with wilderness. Wild lands offer huge benefits as far as ecosystem processes. Is it reasonable to “leave” some lands alone so that they can “naturally” mitigate floods, create oxygen/absorb CO2, recharge acquifers, etc… I think one answer is yes. Another involves the continuation and acceleration of our current environmental issues.


  23. Alan Sachanowski Avatar

    JB, I have run into the kind of prohibitions that you speak of in very popular areas. Frankly, I would much prefer to have to get a permit, reserve a camp site and follow a few rules, then to hike out to some beautiful Alpine lake only to find a hundred other people, dozens of dogs running around chasing anything and everything wild, kids screaming, trash strewn around and fire rings and camp sites every twenty or thirty feet. Not to mention ATV’s ripping up the meadows in non-wilderness areas.
    Forest restrictions (permits etc.) are put in place in especially popular or sensitive areas not to restrict people’s enjoyment of these areas, but to insure it. It’s not like it was forty or fifty years ago. Today more and more people are seeking to “get away from it all”. If these very popular areas aren’t protected they will soon be destroyed. I try to explain that to folks I meet here in Montana who complain about not being able to use their ATV’s or snowmobiles in designated wilderness areas (Absaroka/Beartooth esp.). They claim that they were always respectful of the wildlife, stayed on the trail, picked up other folks trash, helped maintain the trails etc. Maybe they were, I say. Maybe they did. But back in those days how many of them were there on a given day? Two or three? Four? If only a small handful of locals wanted to snowmobile in Yellowstone National Park, I don’t think it would be a problem (even if personally I don’t believe it’s an appropriate use of the Park), but hundreds are going to cause damage.
    Getting back to the restrictions that YOU are talking about: they are only in place in very popular areas. Most areas, while they do still have rules (is there anywhere on this planet that we don’t have to follow laws and rules?) they do not yet have the heavy restrictions you mention. I say “yet” because as the population continues to grow, and still more people are not only going to want to “get away from it all” but are going to “need” to in order to maintain their very sanity, I am sure that restrictions and permits will become more common. Yet this merely underscores the very human need for wilderness; to insure that such opportunities, even if eventually we have to stand in line to enjoy them, continue to exist. For many folks, even if they can’t personally get away, just knowing that such places are “out there” is enough to get them through the day until they can.


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