Rocky Barker: Mapping a Boulder-White Clouds compromise for motorized users

April 21, 2014 

Sandra Mitchell doesn’t believe the Boulder-White Clouds needs more protection.

The executive director of the Idaho Recreation Council, a motorized group, and public lands director of the Idaho Snowmobile Association says the effort to turn 591,293 acres of Central Idaho into a national monument is more about politics than preservation.

But the political reality is that President Barack Obama can make the scenic area into a national monument with his signature. The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives him that power, and all the political connections Mitchell has in the Republican Party and among motorized recreation groups nationwide can’t stop him.

So Mitchell was in Washington earlier this month, meeting with administration officials and representatives of the national preservation community with a simple message. If they can draft a monument proclamation with a map that protects existing uses such as motorcycling and snowmobiling, she could become a supporter.

She echoed a statement of national monument proponent Rick Johnson, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League.

“Let’s have a national monument of which we can all be proud,” Mitchell told administration officials.

She and Johnson are talking. Their starting point is the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, authored by Republican Rep. Mike Simpson.

The bill would have protected more than 300,000 acres of the Boulder-White Clouds as wilderness but left many motorized trails open. There weren’t enough for Mitchell and her constituency, and they helped kill the bill.

Johnson said he’s open to keeping more areas open to motorized use under the monument than CIEDRA did.

Mitchell argues that the existing 275 miles of motorized roads or trails in the area account for only 0.03 percent of the proposed monument. She and snowmobilers want 78,249 acres open to snowmobiles in the winter — 13.2 percent of the monument.

This access gets people out into nature their way, something of increasing importance at a time when so many people find recreation virtually instead of physically. Riding motorcycles or snowmobiles into the Boulder-White Clouds is important to many Idahoans, she said.

“That’s important for quality of life but it’s also about the economic security of those rural communities,” Mitchell said.

Motorheads spend money. If communities like Stanley and Challis are going to benefit from a national monument, they will need to have recreational opportunities for everyone in all seasons, much as Ketchum and Sun Valley have today, she said.

Ever since the collaborative efforts of Republican Sen. Mike Crapo and various parties in Owyhee County resolved issues and created wilderness areas there, Mitchell and Johnson have both come around to the idea of collaboration as the way to work out public land management issues. She told Obama administration officials they have the opportunity to make the Boulder-White Clouds a model for future conservation efforts if they listen to all the people who are affected.

That doesn’t mean everyone gets what they want. But as the Rolling Stones sang, they can get what they need.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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