WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Barack Obama signed legislation Aug. 7 introduced by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, creating new wilderness in Central Idaho’s Boulder-White Cloud Mountains.
Simpson’s Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act, H.R. 1138, was developed over the course of several years with input from a diverse group of stakeholders, including ranchers. The wilderness bill was broadly supported by area cattlemen, who regarded it as a far more palatable option to a national monument designation that was also under consideration.
The bill creates three new Idaho wilderness areas encompassing about 276,000 acres — the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness, the White Clouds Wilderness and the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness.
The bill also removes special restrictions on four study areas under consideration for wilderness, totaling more than 155,000 acres.
By contrast, proponents of a monument sought to include 591,000 acres. According to Simpson’s staff, the wilderness bill had ample input from the cattle industry, and policies governing a monument could change at the whim of an administration.
The wilderness bill closes no roads to motorized use that are currently open to vehicles. Grazing permittees within and adjacent to the wilderness area will be allowed to voluntarily retire grazing permits for compensation form a third-party conservation group.
The bill also awards $5 million in grants toward a Custer County community center, a county health clinic, emergency medical support and Trail Creek Highway improvements. More than $1.5 million in grants have been awarded for trail maintenance and improvements within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
The bill passed the House on July 27 and the Senate on Aug. 4.
“The passage of this bill is a huge victory for Idahoans who’ve worked for over 15 years to create a land management plan for the Boulder-White Clouds,” Simpson said in a press release following Senate approval.
According to a White House press release, Obama signed the bill with Simpson and seven others standing behind him and said Simpson “was able to receive not a single no vote, which does not happen that often.”
“We want to encourage the American people to visit these new, incredible wilderness areas and recognize that not only will this give opportunities to people in Idaho, but it’s going to be there for future generations, as well,” Obama reportedly said during the bill signing.