Cui Bono? 

Ten ways of looking at the White Clouds

1. The White Cloud Range in Central Idaho is named for its color, which comes from the bleached limestone of some of its highest peaks. Other mountains in the range--25 of them taller than 10,000 feet--consist of granite and basalt. In wet years, the range is home to 125 lakes and countless small ponds. During its brief springs and summers, its high meadows and lakeshores are covered with wildflowers and grazing deer, elk, mountain goat and tourists with mountain bikes and fly rods. During the fall, the tourists have guns, ATVs, camo and ammo.

2. The highest peak in the White Clouds is 11,815-foot Castle Peak. It contains a large deposit of molybdenum, an abundant metal used to harden and strengthen steel. Plans by the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) for an open-pit mine were shelved due to the law that created the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. That law prohibited any mining that damaged scenic or wildlife values, and ended the possibility that the White Clouds would be open-pitted, short of a national emergency occasioned by Chinese foreclosure or nuclear war.

3. Advocates for a White Clouds National Monument have lumped them with the Boulder Mountains and desert sagelands into a 600,000-acre behemoth bounded by the Salmon River on the north, Sun Valley's Trail Creek on the South, Highway 75 on the west and Highway 93 on the east. Advocating monument status for this huge area reflects criteria so broad that the only federal land in Idaho not equally eligible is being used for nuclear waste dumps and bombing ranges.

4. The Wilderness Act of 1964 contains some of the most unequivocal language in the federal register. Efforts to soften it have turned wilderness into a bargaining chip, one of a stack of chips that includes motorized corridors, mechanized wildland travel and transfers of federal land or timber or minerals to corporate constituents. That's why U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson's original CIEDRA bill included transfer of federal lands near Stanley to Custer County, which would have sold them to developers. The Idaho Conservation League supported that bill--actually supported transfer of federal land to a local government planning to cover it with trophy houses--in an effort to please its masters at the Pew Foundation.

5. The word "Protect" has been identified by focus groups as one of the four or five best words for fundraising--"Enduring," "Investment," "Future" and "Children" being notable others. Trouble is, if you're "Protecting the White Clouds as an Enduring Investment for the Future of Our Children," you have to vilify the folks you're protecting it from. Monument opponents are being portrayed as Cliven Bundys when they're not being portrayed as the Peabody Coal Company. In fact, opponents understand the damage that monumentation--there's a fundraising word for you--can do to the wild, and to the experience of the humans who visit it.

6. Tourism is a terribly polluting industry. I'm not talking about motorhome and trophy house construction, or the enormous amount of jet fuel and gasoline that gets the average tourist to a Middle Fork boat ramp. I'm not even talking about crazed 14-year-olds on dirt bikes, or Vietnamese children stitching together backpacks. I'm talking about spiritual pollution, and you can see it in the local/tourist divide in any resort town. Locals know the secret spots, the hidden waterfalls, the places that haven't been designed for sale. Tourists get funneled into a constructed experience that takes their money and gets them out the door before the next tourist wanders in. The trouble is--as any tourist industry worker knows--the construct becomes the reality. What's real is replaced by its commodified facsimile.

7. The ICL prides itself on its relentlessness in the cause of wilderness, and Cecil Andrus prides himself on his ability to let the ends dictate the means, but their monument proposal is a jumble of special interest provisions. It looks more like a relentless ICL fundraising effort than an attempt to preserve a fragile landscape. Andrus is old enough to know that the means always corrupt the ends. Establishing a monument by executive order is an exercise in disenfranchisement. Who is being disenfranchised is important, too, because many of the voices against the monument are former Forest Service managers and those of us who have spent summers in the area, taking the time to understand its delicate balances.

8. Monumentation is the further commercialization of the American West. It began with Indian extermination, followed by trapping, mining and agriculture. It continues with the designation of areas for industrial recreation.

9. Monument status for the White Clouds means increased development if the federal government is solvent, increased police presence if it's broke. Cut a service agency's budget, and it quickly devolves into a police agency, substituting crowd control for serving the public. The worst case occurs when a federal agency is forced to forage for its own operating money. The result is pay stations, profit-generating corporate "partners," parking fees and restrictive permits that, together, bar anyone but the wealthy from public lands.

10. President Barack Obama is caught between an evolving energy shortage and the damage that fossil fuel corporations are doing to the planet. He's already using national monuments as environmental cover while his administration touts the mining of "clean" coal and fracked natural gas, technologies that risk turning this country into a Superfund Site without a Superfund. Monument advocates might well prevail, but we might well ask what is being traded here, where the trading floor is and who gains and who loses from the transaction.

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