March 31, 2009

Lands bill will affect all corners of America especially Idaho
Idaho Statesman

Beyond preserving the Owyhees, the measure honors Boisean Morley Nelson, helps protect Auger Falls on the Snake, and provides money to study new dam projects in Idaho.

Erika Bolstad: (202) 383-6104

WASHINGTON - A big "whoop!" went up from the back of the elegant East Room of the White House on Monday when President Barack Obama signed into law a monumental public lands bill that carves out half a million acres of wilderness in Idaho and 2 million acres nationwide.

The 1,218-page bipartisan legislation pulls together more than 150 separate public lands, parks and water bills into one package. It designates additional wilderness in nine states and 1,000 miles of new wild and scenic rivers and creates one new national monument, three national park units and 10 national heritage areas.

It honors former President Bill Clinton's birthplace in Arkansas, designates a geologic trail that tracks cataclysmic ice age floods in the Northwest and requires the government to research the world's increasingly acidic oceans.

"At a time when we're facing a lot of stress and trial in the United States in general, this is a very big step forward and something to really celebrate," said Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, who helped orchestrate the Owyhees Canyonlands legislation.

IDAHO PROGRAMS IN THE LANDS BILL

Beyond the 517,000 acres of wilderness and 316 miles of wild and scenic rivers in the Owyhee Canyonlands, the Idaho provisions are noteworthy:

  • $3 million for studies of dams and water projects on the Snake River and its tributaries.
  • A land transfer to aid Auger Falls park in Twin Falls.
  • Renaming the Snake River Birds of Prey area to honor the late Boise raptor conservationist Morley Nelson.
  • A demonstration project on livestock losses to wolves. It will provide states and Indian tribes with $1 million a year for five years, divided equally between compensating for lost livestock and undertaking non-lethal activities to reduce the risk of livestock losses.

'A VERY BIG STEP FORWARD'

"This was very special," said Crapo, who stood directly behind the president when he signed the bill, and then hugged Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at the end of the ceremony.

The 150 people invited to witness the bill-signing included several who helped craft the compromise that led to the Owyhee provision: Rick Johnson, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League; Fred Grant, a private property rights activist who led the Owyhee Initiative Work Group; and Robert Bear, chairman of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes.

LOOKING AHEAD TO THE NEXT PROTECTION PLAN

The next battle, Crapo said, is to pass legislation that designates the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains in Central Idaho as wilderness, a priority of his Republican colleague Rep. Mike Simpson.

They couldn't get the bill, which would designate 300,000 acres as wilderness, into the legislation signed Monday but "the stage was set," Crapo said.

The same Senate staffer on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee who helped write the Owyhee legislation in a way agreeable to a Democratic Congress is now working on the Boulder-White Clouds bill, Simpson said.

He's had trouble getting the House Natural Resources Committee to articulate the Democratic objections to the bill, Simpson said, but he hopes it will continue to make progress in the Senate.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Simpson said, adding that the bill the president signed Monday with the Owyhees wilderness was "important whether Boulder-White Clouds was in it or not."

Erika Bolstad: (202) 383-6104. Original story at IdahoStatesman.com

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