Today the U.S. Senate passed a Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill. The U.S. House has already done so.

Now the bill will go to the President’s desk to be signed into law!

Yes, it has happened. A Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill has really happened….

With the greatest of understatement, this is an amazing story-decades long. This isn’t the place to tell it, but as many of you know, this path has been as twisty and steep as any mountain trail, complete with its share of blowdowns and washouts. It’s a journey that reached its right resolution because of tireless work on the part of many, many people, literally over generations. But beneath it all, success came because the Boulder and White Cloud Mountains are such amazing places.

"Working to preserve in perpetuity is a great inspiration," the Wilderness Act’s lead author and champion Howard Zahniser wrote over 50 years ago. To be sure, the Boulder-White Clouds have inspired. Generations of people of people have been awed by their beauty, recreation challenges and fragility. Finally, we have created protections worthy of the place.

A wilderness bill, decades in the making, would never have happened without thousands of grassroots efforts over many, many years. For that, I thank you.

It also would never have happened without steadfast leadership from Rep. Mike Simpson, an Idaho leader I’ve come to know well over these 15 years. I cannot count the number of times he’s stuck his neck out for this special place. We’ve hung together through thick and thin. No one deserves credit for this success more than Mike. And on behalf of everyone at ICL, I offer my congratulations and thanks. I also thank his dedicated staff, particularly his Chief of Staff, Lindsay Slater. To them both, we are grateful.

Sen. Jim Risch also deserves tremendous credit, providing heavy lifting where and when it was needed. Risch famously stopped the process years ago, saying that the bill needed more compromise. More compromise brought in more stakeholders-and earned Risch’s support. As he’s shown before, when Risch is your champion, you’ve got the Energizer Bunny on your side.

Pressure of a national monument unquestionably contributed to this successful legislative outcome. Frustrated with continued failure in Congress, ICL and our partners created a monument campaign. We did this because a monument is an excellent tool to accomplish many of the same goals that wilderness legislation would-and in some cases more. From our perspective, this wilderness bill could have been stronger. The national monument proclamation ICL and others have been working towards over the last three years would have protected more acreage. However, we understand that legislation requires compromise. The conservation community had to give some-and so did other stakeholders. At the end of the day, we are pleased that one of Idaho’s most pristine wildernesses gets the lasting protection it deserves.

Thousands of people made the strategic leap of faith and helped us rapidly build a robust and compelling campaign, one of the nation’s best. I can confidently say our work was on the desks of the highest levels of the Obama administration. We created the monument campaign as an alternative path to protection, in great part, with encouragement and support of another Boulder-White Clouds champion, former Idaho Governor and Secretary of the Interior Cecil Andrus.

In the end, somewhat surprisingly, the monument compelled Congress to act. Simpson clearly saw the monument as likely. In a meeting I attended, he asked a senior White House staffer for a six-month window to move another bill in Congress. Soon after, Risch stepped up and said, "Mike, we need to get this done." New compromises were made, and while we didn’t like them, new stakeholders came on board. And faster than many imagined possible, they got it through the House and Senate.

Fascinating as the politics can be, let’s put that aside. As much as I want to go on for pages thanking people, that will wait too.

Right now, I go to the place, this wonderful place. Sunset glow on the Boulders. Mountain goats on the side of Castle Peak. Elk calves in the Bowery. The sound of the wind. Falling water. The rustle of an aspen. The Boulder-White Clouds are now wilderness. A protected wilderness.

Thank you.