Guest column: A monumental mistake

Idahoans should ask President Obama to reject the proposal by environmental activists to create the Boulder-White Clouds National Monument by presidential proclamation.

As proposed, the monument would include 592,000 acres of federal land in central Idaho, including an area east of the East Fork of the Salmon River, aka Jerry Peak Highlands, and a region west of the East Fork and within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, aka Boulder-White Clouds.

The ecology of the 280,000-acre Boulder-White Cloud region is not at risk and in all likelihood never will be. The U.S. Forest Service protects the area by the rigorous application of Public Law 92-400 that created the Sawtooth NRA in 1972, and much of the land is managed as de facto wilderness.

I speak from firsthand experience. I have lived on the western edge of the proposed monument for 38 years and as the former president and executive director of the Sawtooth Society, I spent nearly every waking hour for 12 years working with the Forest Service and area stakeholders to ensure that the streams, lakes, meadows, mountains, and fish and wildlife, are safeguarded. Today, the area is universally considered to be a national treasure and Idaho crown jewel.

The 312,000-acre Jerry Peak Highlands, while not enjoying the special status as the area within the Sawtooth NRA, is nonetheless well-protected by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, and much of it is also managed as de facto Wilderness. The area is remote and lacks scenic destinations like alpine lakes and glaciated peaks. As a result, the area receives little use except for a few souls like me who saddle up and experience its stark beauty of sagebrush, rock and scattered timber from the back of a horse.

Monument supporters offer glittering generalities about “protecting the areas for generations to come” and creating “Wilderness-like qualities,” but they know that real, permanent Wilderness can only be created by Congress. Especially troubling, proponents have failed to answer two fundamental questions: What are the specific threats to the area that require protection? And which of these threats cannot be protected against under existing laws and regulations? They cannot and will not answer these questions because the answer to both is “none.”

Why promote a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument if there is no added environmental benefit? I suspect that those pushing the monument — the Idaho Conservation League and Wilderness Society, in particular — feel pressure to demonstrate to donors that they can accomplish something after having failed to get Wilderness legislation enacted for the areas; even if the “something” is merely symbolic. As the former head of a conservation organization, I understand their desire to satisfy their donors, but they must not be allowed to do so at the expense of the Boulder-White Clouds and Jerry Peak Highlands and those who live, work and recreate there.

What’s the worst that could happen if President Obama decrees a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument? It’s impossible to know the full extent of damage that could be done but, for certain, most stakeholders would be deprived of the opportunity to participate in a land management decision of critical importance to them, the agreement most users have for sharing the resource would be undermined and overlaying a national monument on an existing national recreation area would invite confusion, conflict and litigation.

To keep President Obama from making a monumental mistake, log onto and sign the online petition.

Hayes is a founding member of the Sawtooth Society and served as its president and/or executive director from 1997-2009.