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12Nov/100

NEWS: Will Idaho See More Wilderness?

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Two of Idaho's big winners don’t want more wilderness, but the Idaho Republicans who do may be more powerful than ever

Voters give big wins to two opponents — Labrador and Otter — but the Idaho Republican proponents in Congress may be more powerful than ever.

BY ROCKY BARKER - rbarker@idahostatesman.com

Copyright: © 2010 Idaho Statesman

Published: 11/06/10


Motorized recreation groups who oppose new wilderness had a lot of good news Tuesday night.

Congressman-elect Raul Labrador opposed new wilderness during his campaign against Democratic U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick. Anti-wilderness Gov. Butch Otter was re-elected by a commanding margin.

Strengthened anti-government forces in the U.S. Senate will make it harder to pass the kind of bipartisan bills that included 500,000 acres of wilderness in the Owyhees. And anti-wilderness forces will get a more favorable hearing before House Republicans than they did with the outgoing Democrat majority.

“This election cycle … has reinforced my belief that a majority of Idaho’s citizens believe we have enough wilderness,” said software engineer and snowmobiler Wade Patrick of Boise.

But “motorized users see no end in sight to the constant debate and compromise surrounding wilderness,” he said.

NEW CLOUT FOR SIMPSON

Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, sponsor of the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, picked up clout with the Republican takeover of the House. As a chairman of a crucial Appropriations subcommittee, he will be in a strong position to push his bill to create more than 300,000 acres of wilderness in the Boulder-White Clouds that would be off-limits to motorized use.

And the coalition of local officials, timber companies and environmentalists working on a collaborative project in the Clearwater and Nez Perce national forests in north-central Idaho — a process that includes wilderness talks — are confident their efforts will eventually succeed.

“This does not kill anything,” said Craig Gehrke, who runs the Boise office of the Wilderness Society. “I’m not going to accept that anything is insurmountable.”

The Clearwater Basin Collaborative is the latest effort by Republican Sen. Mike Crapo to bring together divergent forces to find common ground for managing public lands. The group already has had a major success even without legislation.

Thanks to agreements forged in the collaborative, the U.S. Forest Service approved up to $40 million in forest-restoration work over the next decade that could allow the harvest of up to 100 million board feet of timber.

“It’s really good for the landscape and it’s going to provide product for the mills,” said Brad Brooks, who’s with the Wilderness Society in Boise. “It’s a win-win situation.”

LARGE ROADLESS BLOCK IN THE CLEARWATER

But Brooks and other conservation groups are at the table because they hope to protect some of the 1.2 million acres of roadless lands in the two national forests as wilderness.

“The Clearwater is the biggest block of wilderness-quality land left in the lower 48 states,” Brooks said.

Some of the areas are places where Patrick and other snowmobilers ride high into mountain country on their machines.

“From a snowmobiler’s perspective, alpine is an endangered resource,” Patrick said.

Crapo remains committed to the Clearwater collaborative and ensuring all interests are served, including those of wilderness supporters, said his press secretary Lindsay Nothern.

“We don’t see the Clearwater work as being a Republican wilderness bill,” Nothern said. “We see a multipurpose land-management package.”

Labrador has not commented specifically on the Clearwater process. Alex Irby, a former timber company executive from Orofino who co-chairs the Clearwater group, said he hopes to meet with Labrador soon.

“We’re going to open our arms to him,” Irby said.

SIMPSON MUM

Simpson is expected to reintroduce his Boulder-White Cloud bill. But he had nothing to say about it on election night.

Tim Mahoney, a longtime expert with the Pew Campaign for America’s Wilderness, said he’s doubtful the bill will come up in Congress’ lame-duck session later this year before the new Congress takes office, but he wouldn’t rule it out. He is also hopeful wilderness bills can move in the next two years.

“We’ve been able to advance wilderness when Republicans controlled the House in the past,” he said.

Patrick, the snowmobiler, would like to see alternatives to wilderness developed that would allow riders like him to keep going to the places they ride now. But he’s not confident the election will stop wilderness and other laws that shut down motorized access to public lands.

“I feel it will only delay the inevitable incremental closure of most everything,” he said.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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