Republicans want to return 130,000 acres to multiple use
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
Three members of the Idaho congressional delegation are sponsoring bills that would release almost 132,000 acres from wilderness study and return it to multiple-use management.
U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch on April 30 introduced the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act in the Senate. It is sponsored in the House by Rep. Mike Simpson. All are Idaho Republicans.
The bill seeks to bring certainty to land management questions in the Boulder and White Cloud Mountains while preserving livelihoods and recreational access for sportsmen and off-road vehicle users, according to news releases.
Crapo spokesman Lindsay Nothern said the senator is following through on his commitment to Simpson to get the bill in the Senate.
The bill would release 131,616 acres of central Idaho wilderness study land, returning it to multiple use status, which will provide recreational and economic opportunities. The legislation codifies recreational, outfitting and grazing opportunities, as well as offering some ranchers the option of retiring grazing permits for private compensation.
The bill could also open some lands for grazing, although Crapo hasn't heard any interest in that regard, Nothern said.
The legislation also designates 318,765 acres in the Sawtooth and Challis national forests as new wilderness lands.
Simpson first introduced legislation in October 2004 and has continued to reintroduce legislation in subsequent sessions. He planned to introduce a new version, identical to the Senate version, this week, said Nikki Watts, Simpson's communications director.
Previous versions of the bill have been opposed by the Sierra Club.
Simpson said the compromise on longstanding conflicts ensures Idahoans can enjoy the Boulder-White Clouds now and into the future and bolsters the economy of central Idaho.
The legislation would also help circumvent federal lawsuits, regulations and restrictions, he said. One particular threat is a designation as a national monument.
Nothern said Crapo felt the water language in Simpson's bill needed additional review and held several meetings and got considerable input before signing on.
"With his background as a water law attorney, anytime Sen. Crapo puts his name on legislation, his concern is it's going to line up with state water laws," he said.
"We have been working with Idaho leaders to make sure that water language in the new bill maintains state water sovereignty and supports existing water agreements in Idaho," Crapo said in a press release. "It is also important to note that we will continue to work with all stakeholders to make improvements as this legislation moves forward."