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Agencies, greens back bill to protect wild Idaho tracts


Just a Lobster Minion
NAXJA Member
PUBLIC LANDS: Agencies, greens back bill to protect wild Idaho tracts

Corbin Hiar, E&E reporter
E&E News: Friday, May 22, 2015

The decade long legislative push to permanently protect the Boulder-White Cloud region of central Idaho seemed to pick up momentum at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee hearing yesterday.

Idaho Republican Sen. James Risch's S. 583 was the main focus of the public lands panel, which also considered a half-dozen other bills. Risch's legislation would permanently protect from development 67,998 acres as the Hemingway/Boulders Wilderness and 90,769 acres as the White Clouds Wilderness. Both parcels are within the Sawtooth and Challis national forests.
At the hearing, the "Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act," as S. 583 is also known, received the qualified support of the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and environmental groups.
BLM manages approximately 24,000 acres of the proposed Jerry Peak Wilderness, and the agency would like to work with Risch and the committee "on minor boundary modifications" to improve manageability, said Tim Murphy, the acting assistant director for landscape conservation and community partnerships.

The agency also wants to modify some of the dozen small, no-cost land conveyances included in the bill to minimize impacts to greater sage-grouse habitat and, in some cases, to ensure that city or county governments pay for the necessary surveys and documents, Murphy said.

Forest Service Deputy Chief Leslie Weldon recommended "that language be added to the bill that would authorize the agency to maintain historical structures that may exist in the designated wilderness areas."

She also called on lawmakers to remove two sections of the legislation. One could limit the president's discretion to review and approve water resources that are deemed in the national interest. Another would convey Forest Service lands to communities that either no longer want them or are not willing to pay for them.

Environmental groups, meanwhile, support the bill but want the president to protect Boulder-White Cloud area as a national monument if legislative efforts fall short again.

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who is sponsoring the companion bill, H.R. 1138, has introduced nine previous versions of the legislation without success. He and Risch oppose a national monument designation because they fear that it would allow the federal government to decide what sort of recreation would be allowed in the area without local input.

Environmentalists are also upset that the latest iteration of the bill protects 57,000 fewer acres than previous versions of the legislation. That land was left out to satisfy the concerns of motorized vehicle users, who now support the legislative push.

"There are significant parts of the Boulder-White Clouds not in this bill we always assumed would be," Rick Johnson, the executive director of the Idaho Conservation League, told lawmakers.

"We recognize compromise is hard," he added. "But working together, we may finally have the wind at our back."

Risch also promised to try to accommodate the concerns of Brett Stevenson, a board member of the Wood River Bike Coalition, which he claimed was the only group he could find that opposed his bill.

"What you just put out, I will shop again," the senator told her. "But I have to tell you, I'm not going to let that stand in the way of passing the bill with all the support that we have for it."

Support for N.M. wilderness, search-and-recovery bills

The other wilderness bill discussed at the hearing, New Mexico Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich's S. 1240, also garnered widespread support but generated far less discussion.
The bill would create the Cerros del Yuta and Rio San Antonio wilderness areas within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Together, the wilderness areas would permanently protect 21,420 acres of the 242,500-acre monument.

Murphy offered BLM's support for the "Cerros del Norte Conservation Act" but said he would appreciate the opportunity to make some minor boundary modifications. Statements of support were also submitted to the committee by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and the Pew Charitable Trusts, which is also backing the Boulder-White Cloud bill.

Another public lands bill that got the administration's backing was S. 160 from Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.). "The Good Samaritan Search and Recovery Act" would direct the secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to create an expedited process for organizations and individuals conducting search-and-recovery missions for people who are missing and presumed dead.
The Forest Service, which is a part of the Department of Agriculture, supports the bill, but "provisions requiring the development and implementation of a process to expedite access would be unnecessary and redundant," Weldon said. "The Forest Service currently has very few access restrictions to federal lands under its jurisdiction for the type of activities described in the act. Notable exceptions would include some restrictions to areas designated as wilderness, and special area closures for events such as fire or avalanche."

The "Good Samaritan" bill, which cleared the House with unanimous support last month, was drafted after a search-and-rescue team spent the better part of 10 months getting a special-use permit to locate the body of Air Force Staff Sgt. Antonio Tucker, who drowned at the Lake Mead Recreation Area in 2012 (E&E Daily, April 29).
The National Park Service initially declined the team's help before agreeing to the ultimately successful recovery. Also on Lake Mead, a volunteer group finally found the body of slain cab driver Keith Goldberg after more than a year negotiating with NPS over permits and insurance.

Two other bills that the subcommittee considered encountered opposition from the administration.

Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller's S. 472 is a bipartisan measure that would convey lands to the state of Nevada and Douglas County, Nev., in addition to selling certain federal lands and setting aside lands to be held in trust for the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. But the Forest Service raised concerns about many provisions of bill, which is also supported by Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, because it would convey public lands without adequately compensating the federal government.

S. 365, a bill to restore grazing levels within Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to levels that existed on Sept. 17, 1996, the day before it was declared a national monument, was panned by BLM and in testimony submitted by environmental groups. The measure is being pushed by Utah Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch, who is the lead sponsor, and Mike Lee.

"BLM does not support managing rangelands according to arbitrary targets of use," Murphy told Lee at the hearing. The agency has been working for years on a livestock grazing management plan for the 1.9-million-acre monument, which could be finalized in 2016 (E&ENews PM, Nov. 1, 2013).

The subcommittee also considered two bills from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), S. 814 and S. 815, that would transfer state and federal lands to Oregon tribes. But Wyden, the panel's ranking member, had to leave the hearing soon after it began to take part in the floor debate over a trade bill he's supporting, so the measures were little discussed.