Guest editorial: White-Clouds monument would cost too much

From the Twin Falls Times-News

Public land shouldn’t be a bastion of haves and have nots. But the classic dichotomy would be the end game if President Barack Obama grabs his pen and makes the Boulder-White Clouds tract a national monument as part of his late-term legacy building.

Land use has become a controversial topic in Idaho and throughout the West. The green groups pitching the national monument idea to the White House are part of a long line of activists with an exclusive, elitist view of how the outdoors should be enjoyed. It’s yet another attempt to limit access to a swath of taxpayer-funded property to only like-minded peers. Just because some don’t want to hear the rumble of a far-off ATV while bird watching doesn’t mean those who enjoy the activities with a gas-powered engine are any less worthy of access.

But that’s what would likely happen should Obama create the nearly 600,000 national monument near Stanley. The monument would cater to people who enjoy exploring under their own power. Those who prefer a snowmobile or four-wheeler would most likely be out of luck.

It’s a classist shell game — championed under the guise of environmental protection — that has too often played out already throughout the country. A presidential designation means after-the-fact rulemaking, instead of public hearings and comment periods seen under congressional wilderness proposals. It means too many local stakeholders would be left out of the process. It means a deal done in Washington would be imposed on the very people who call the region home.

Regardless of what proponents say, the proposed national monument isn’t something for Idahoans, by Idahoans.

Proponents, including the Idaho Conservation League and the Wilderness Society, say the push is about barring further mining in the region. Their mining concerns have merit, but the potential side effects — like so many pills advertised on television — are worse than the illness. Generations of people living near the mountain ranges would grow to resent the government and environmentalists who snatched the outdoors from them.

Obama last month took such an action in New Mexico, declaring a large swath of the Organ Mountains a protected monument. But there’s an important difference between the Organs and the Boulder-White Clouds. There was broad-base support in New Mexico for the idea. That’s certainly not the case in Idaho. Custer County and Blaine County are on opposite sides of the fence. Even the Sawtooth Society doesn’t like the idea.

Rep. Mike Simpson has tried for years to get the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA) through Congress, but has run into resistance from his fellow Idaho lawmakers. It’s a shame. Simpson is pushing an inclusive approach to protecting Boulder-White Clouds. The national monument idea is a hijacking posing as an alternative. Those lobbying the White House should refocus their efforts toward finding more support for CIEDRA.

Otherwise, with a swipe of a presidential pen, Boulder-White Clouds would become a playground for the few at the cost of the many.