Congress establishes a new Wilderness area, and in Idaho!!

Wilderness in the Boulder and White Clouds mountains after 40 years of trying!

Yesterday the U.S. Senate, just like the U.S. House did earlier this summer, passed a 275,000 acre wilderness bill for the scenic Boulder and White Clouds mountains. They rise on the east side of the famous Sawtooth Valley in central Idaho.  Of course, the President will sign the bill. [Note: on 8/8/15 the President did sign the bill into law].

Some say this is the prettiest place in Idaho, though such a statement would have its challengers. In many ways the image of Castle Peak in the White Clouds has come to represent Idaho wilderness in general. Nonetheless, it took 40 years of trying to turn the big roadless area into a legally protected unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Actually the bill creates 3 wilderness areas, separated by primitive roads or hotly contested motorized trails. According to Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho, who has been the leading (the only) force in the House Republicans pushing for this bill, here are the details.

“Three new wilderness areas would be created totaling 275,665 acres. They are the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness (88,079 acres), the White Clouds Wilderness (90,841 acres) and the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness (117,040).  The total wilderness acreage would be reduced by 36,968 acres from the original CIEDRA bill that would have created 332,928 acres.”

The senate bill was sponsored by Idaho’s junior senator Jim Risch. In years past Risch had exercised his influence to kill wilderness bills for the area that came from the House.

The real effort, however, came from Rep. Simpson who has been trying to pass this for years, and also because of a threat that the President would designate a much larger area as a national monument if a wilderness bill did not finally pass this year. The bill also passed because a multitude of interests, many of them conflicting, were finally moved to support wilderness, or at least not oppose the bill.

Not given much publicity, the legislation also provides for a legal buyout of livestock grazing allotments inside the new wilderness and for a large, mostly undeveloped area outside the wilderness.  If the buyouts happen, they would be privately funded and voluntary. There are strong indications that there will be private moneys for substantial buyouts to grazers who volunteer. To a fair number of people supporting the protection of the area, these buyouts were as important as the Wilderness itself.

This is the only wilderness bill to clear this Republican Congress.


  1. ramses09 Avatar

    “This week Congress jumped into the fray. In a brief rider attached to the budget bill for FY 2011, lawmakers – with the Obama administration’s assent, however reluctant – removed wolves in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Utah from the federal endangered species list, returning wolf management to the states.

    It was a bipartisan move, pushed by Sen. Jon Tester (D) of Montana and Rep. Mike Simpson (R) of Idaho, who emphasized that wolves had long since met the recovery goals set under the Endangered Species Act.
    “What Congress has done today at the request of Senator Tester and Representative Simpson is unforgiveable and marks a low point in the recent history of wildlife conservation,” said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. “Never before has Congress stripped Endangered Species Act protections for one particular species, putting politics above sound science and our national commitment to conserving America’s wildlife.”

    Mike Simpson is an ass – plain & simple. He & Tester put wolves right under the bus –

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      This should be a story too — to match the wilderness story.

      1. ramses09 Avatar

        I agree Ralph. To many of us forget what these so-called politicians have done & will do for $$.

    2. timz Avatar

      Lets not forget he forced the USDA to keep the sheep station open as well.

  2. ramses09 Avatar

    This is the only wilderness bill to clear this Republican Congress.”

    What does this tell you??
    Republicans are bad for the environment!

  3. Kathleen Avatar

    It seems to go without saying (tho I’ll say it!) that an intact 332,928 acre wilderness area would have been preferable to three fragmented areas divided by motor corridors. For example, see this comment at the Idaho Statesman article, from the Backcountry Rider Access Preservation Program:

    “This is bitter sweet, because most OHV users believe these mountains are sufficiently protected by the Idaho Roadless Rule, SNRA rules, and other Federal environmental laws. But this new Wilderness tract is a kind of win for OHV groups because the Wilderness was drawn around existing OHV trails to preserve ALL existing OHV access. The downside is OHVs will be perminently locked out of the Wilderness areas.”

    And this, from the article: “This time Risch joined Simpson in engineering a seven-month collaborative effort to get broad support ranging from conservation groups to motorized recreation, local communities and even the anti-wilderness Idaho Farm Bureau. Through a collaborative effort, Congressman Simpson crafted this legislation that is truly an Idaho bill,” said Risch…”

    “Truly an Idaho bill” gives one pause (just like Tester’s “made in Montana solution” for wolves), since so many of these so-called collaborative efforts make damaging concessions via “special provisions” that set damaging precedents to wilderness going forward–just to get a designation.

    From “Wilderness: The next 50 years?” by Nie & Barns

    “While collaboration could potentially break long-time wilderness stalemates, we fear that those collaborating in today’s polarized political context may make deals that collectively threaten the integrity of the Wilderness System.

    “That compromise is part of wilderness, as it is for politics more generally, is not the dispute. What is disputed is whether these compromises have gone too far in recent years and what precedent they set for the future of the Wilderness System.

    We are also concerned that those interests collaborating will view the original 1964 law as simply a starting point for negotiations and that there will be increasing calls for non-conforming uses and special provisions in newly-designated wilderness areas, such as language pertaining to grazing, wildlife management, motorized use, and fire. Precedent is a special concern in this context because of how often special provisions—to meet the desires of those opposed to wilderness—are replicated in subsequent wilderness laws. There appears to be a disturbing trend in the collaborators representing “conservation” interests negotiating away central tenets of the Wilderness Act in exchange for simply getting an area called “Wilderness” designated. As a result, recent legislation appears to be enshrining the WINO – Wilderness In Name Only.”

    Full article:

    That said, and motor-use boundaries aside, and grazing allotment buyouts a good thing, one wonders what, if any, damaging special provisions might be lurking.

  4. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    I had to smile at this comment:

    Which term does not fit in this group?

    Wilderness / Wildliife Habitat / Watershed / Motors

  5. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Not given much publicity, the legislation also provides for a legal buyout of grazing allotments inside the wilderness and for a large area outside it. If the buyouts happen, they would be privately funded and voluntary. There are strong indications that there will be private moneys for substantial buyouts to grazers who volunteer.

    May I ask a dumb question – who is buying, the Federal government? I’m a little leery.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      I mean, if we’re lucky, it could be the Nature Conservancy or other such group; if we’re unlucky, could it be a mine, a resort, a housing development? Sometimes the devil you know is better…or maybe I don’t know how buybacks work.

      1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
        Ralph Maughan

        Ida Lupine,

        Buyouts will be only for conservation purposes. These lands, permit or not, are federal. There is no title to the land involved in the issuance or termination of a grazing permit.

        They are not “buybacks” because the grazing permits were never purchased. There are issued — giving out.

        Purchase of a grazing permit is not normally allowed because properly speaking these permits are not private property. However, in reality the Forest Service and BLM treat them much like they were private property.

        This law is agnostic on the matter of what grazing permits are legally. It simply says permittees can sell the permits so to retire them if they want (something that otherwise could not happen).

        Despite what livestock organizations have said the past, the marginal economic nature of many of the area’s operations will surely lead to selling grazing permits for their retirement. Other permittees will have no one to carry on when they retire (and many are well past sixty). They will likely seek a buyout.

        Oh, the area subject to this provision is about 4 times as large as the wilderness just established.

        1. Ida Lupine Avatar
          Ida Lupine

          Wow. Then I guess this is a great thing. I was trying not to imagine this area threatened by a mine, which it had been at one time? For that alone, I think it’s great.

          I have to admit that since all the politicians were for it, I thought there must be a catch somewhere. 🙂

          Thanks for your very informative answer.

      2. Kay Merriam Avatar
        Kay Merriam

        Well, it has taken over 40 years to obtain some protection for the White Clouds and the Boulder area. John would be smiling at the length of time but greatly pleased that our congressional representatives would be “speaking for the wild animals and immensely beautiful natural areas so important to the very existence of what makes Idaho unique.” I am deeply happy that Merriam Peak is now protected and know that our daughters Kyle and Jennifer Merriam will always feel honored that this can be a tribute to their father’s efforts to save this area.

        1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
          Ralph Maughan

          Kay Merriam,

          Thank you for your celebratory comment. It is far more than enough time.

          I recall that when I first came to Idaho State University, I would go down to John Merriam’s office every day to learn the latest on the White Clouds moly mine and Greater Sawtooth issues.

          Now the peak named in his memory finally rests inside protected wilderness. Wonderful!

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Ida Lupine,

      Any buyouts will come from private individuals or organizations. I understand that some money is already lined up for use purchasing.

  6. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    Come on folks, the creation of an additional 275,000 acres of wilderness in Idaho and the potential buy outs of grazing permits 4 times the size of the wildernesses is a day to celebrate. This article was not about the rider de-listing wolves and Rep. Simpson should be commended for his effort in securing the passage of an area long to be protected.

    As for “However, in reality the Forest Service and BLM treat them much like they were private property”, I’m not aware of any federal grazing permit that restricts public access. There maybe terms and conditions of the permit which may allow or require installing fencing (protection of resources), installing “No Trespassing” signs are never allowed.

    It’s time to put our money where our mouth is and send a check to organizations (i.e Nature Conservancy) that are involved in the buying out of grazing permits. You can specifically designate your donation for this purpose in this area.

  7. BC Avatar

    Great news! It’s a beautiful area.

  8. Logan Avatar

    Good news. I hope that wilderness designation does not attract hordes of people that otherwise would never have know that this area exists.

  9. Roger Harrer Avatar
    Roger Harrer

    “I hope that wilderness designation does not attract hordes of people that otherwise would never have know that this area exists.”

    There is extreme irony in the fact that you need a lot of people to experience and enjoy natural things so you have a political base to protect them.

    I started floating the Salmon and other rivers in 1963 when one saw very few others on the river. My friends and I disliked seeing commercial outfitters taking folks for thrill rides, the customers never learning anything about how to read the water nor having much responsibility for their own safety or the care of the wild places. Ten years later certain parts of the Salmon were so popular they were being “loved to death.” In 1972 at some camps on the Middle Fork, it was hard to find a spot to roll out a sleeping bag without removing toilet paper first.

    When the lottery system and new regulations came the next year, we knew they were absolutely necessary to provide some protection for the “wild” character of the river corridor. Even more importantly, it was becoming obvious that all those tourists floating with the commercial groups (and their friends to whom they enthusiastically described their experiences)were vital to protecting the river resource we were all enjoying.

    Now, the Middle Fork Salmon, for example, in the summer is only “apparent wilderness,” as one Forest Service employee described it. “Your camp may be clean,” he said, “but realize that some other group has camped there every night for the past two months.” He recommended that during our trip we hike away from the river a bit to get into the real wilderness that very few bother to touch.

    There may be some similarities with some folks who take their 4-wheel vehicles into those corridors where they will be allowed in the White Clouds/Boulders. No, they aren’t purists but some of them realize that the wildness and beauty is the reason they want to be there in the first place and in their hearts want to protect it some way. We need those feelings in significant numbers of our people. Like I said, ironic.

    Just a little different slant on some of this. Life is not simple.


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