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Boulder-White Clouds: Monument or Missed Opportunity?

Posted by Rick Johnson at Nov 15, 2013 11:54 AM |

ICL Executive Director Rick Johnson and ICL Board Chair Elaine French on what national monument designation for the Boulder-White Clouds would and would not do.

Boulder-White Clouds: Monument or Missed Opportunity?

Boulder-White Clouds. Ed Cannady photo.

The Boulder and White Cloud Mountains, the largest roadless area in the lower 48 states, lie under the first light snows of the season. The rivers and streams flow quietly and wildlife finds sanctuary as they have for millennia.

The Idaho Conservation League—with hunters and anglers, recreation interests, businesses, and other conservation organizations—are part of a growing discussion about national monument protection for the Boulder-White Clouds.

A monument can be created by presidential proclamation. Former Gov. Cecil Andrus has advocated this path since 2010. The final years of a presidential administration are typically when monuments are created, as with the Craters of the Moon expansion in the Clinton years.

A proclamation based on collaborative process would define the values to be protected like wild character of the landscape, migratory and high-elevation fish and wildlife habitat, and recreation opportunities we enjoy today. These are values ICL has advocated for decades with support of many local businesses and governments. We’ve spent over a decade working with Congress and the Idaho delegation to pass a wilderness bill to protect these values, but Congress can’t get it done. This would.

All interested citizens and stakeholders would be involved in designing a management plan for the new monument which is required within a short time, based on the core values identified in the proclamation.

The Sawtooth National Recreation Area is not broken. A monument would provide a complement to the SNRA, with the law that created the SNRA remaining the preeminent governing law for the entire SNRA. A monument for the Boulder-White Clouds would build from the SNRA and provide a higher level of protection for this special place.

The SNRA was a compromise appropriate for 1972. It has done much to protect this amazing landscape. But what is the same as in 1972? There have been changes since then, including how we all enjoy the Boulder-White Clouds. There will be changes in the future. If the Boulder-White Clouds are to be protected as they are today, we must capitalize on opportunities to do it.

Since 1972, the SNRA has been unable to address the expansion of off-road motorized use. The US Forest Service has recommended a large portion of the Boulder-White Clouds be designated as wilderness. In other parts of Idaho, Forest Service recommended wilderness is managed that way to ensure the values are protected. The SNRA has not done this. A monument won’t set the clock back but would limit further expansion of motorized use.

The 1972 SNRA law says the values found in the area cannot be “substantially impaired.” At the time everyone agreed the Sawtooth Range deserved stronger protection so was designated as wilderness. The Boulder-White Clouds also deserves stronger protection, yet Congress continues to stumble and fails to get it done. A monument would get it done. 

The Boulder-White Clouds are more than the high peaks many know best. It is a large roadless landscape extending well to the east, capturing the watershed of the East Fork Salmon River. While much is within the SNRA, much is not. A monument would protect this multi-elevation basin providing some of the highest salmon and steelhead habitat on Earth, winter and summer range for migratory game species, and habitat insurance in a time of global climate change.

We’ve heard a monument may have “unintended consequences.” The greatest unintended consequence comes from doing nothing. If we’re proactive this could be a benefit to the local economy and provide potential for added resources for the agency. Our future will not be handed to us. We have to shape it.


Rick Johnson, Idaho Conservation League executive director
Elaine French, Idaho Conservation League board of directors chair

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