In early August, Rep. Mike Simpson along with Sen. Jim Risch shepherded a 275,665-acre wilderness bill through Congress. Just a few days later, Pres. Barack Obama signed the bill into law, creating three new wilderness areas: the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness (88,079 acres), the White Clouds Wilderness (90,841 acres) and the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness (117,040). This collection of wilderness areas is collectively known as the Boulder-White Clouds.
For many years, the focus has been on the White Clouds and for good reason. Alpine peaks, high mountain lakes and meadows, and vast recreational experiences-hiking, biking, horseback riding, motorcycling, snowmobiling… the list of assets goes on. So when Mike Simpson drew the boundaries for his wilderness proposal for the White Clouds, you can imagine it was no little feat. Everyone had an opinion and everyone wanted his or her own piece of the pie. But in the end, Simpson succeeded in the White Clouds-finding compromise among users and balancing use with preservation. A delicate balance, one could say. Did everyone get what he or she wanted? No, but everyone got something.
Yet, sitting quietly in the afternoon shadow of the White Clouds is a lesser-known wild place, the new McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness. The elegant arc of high mountains and ridgelines on the east side of the East Fork Salmon River is rarely visited and boasts some of the best fish and wildlife habitat found in Idaho. As the mountains climb into the sky, they leave the trees behind, opening up into an alpine tundra environment like nowhere else in the region.
The area holds extensive winter and summer range for wildlife because of the unique connected elevational gradient. Animals can move from protected feeding areas high in the mountains to lower elevation zones along the East Fork Salmon River. It’s home to rare and endangered plants, and the highest elevation spawning grounds for steelhead and Chinook salmon in the world. According to climate change predictions, this area will also be one of the last remaining strong holds for bull trout.
When the wilderness boundary was finalized for the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak area, it mirrored the boundaries envisioned nearly 20 years ago. It captures the best of the best and connects directly into the new Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness, making the two wilderness areas nearly seamless. For now and for generations to come, this wild east side will be preserved in the same way we see it today. That’s worth celebrating.