President Obama Signs Landmark Boulder-White Clouds Bill Into Law 

click to enlarge ED CANNADY
  • Ed Cannady
Surrounded by many familiar faces in Idaho environmental advocacy work, President Barack Obama did something on the morning of Aug. 7 that advocates and lawmakers have been working towards for more than four decades. At 11:55 p.m., eastern time, Obama signed H.R. 1138—the "Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act" into law. That makes 275,665 acres of the Boulder-White Cloud mountains in Central Idaho designated Wilderness. 

Behind Obama's desk stood Secretary of the Department of Interior Sally Jewell, Representative Mike Simpson, Idaho Conservation League Executive Director Rick Johnson, the Wilderness Society Idaho Regional Director Craig Gehrke, Stanley City Council President Steve Botti and Sawtooth Society Executive Director Gary O'Malley, among others.

"One of the things we've also been trying to focus on is leaving a legacy for the next generation in preserving this incredible beauty, the God-given blessings that we've received—those of us who live here in the United Sates of America," Obama said. "I think everybody here knows that one of the prettiest states that we have with some of the greatest national treasures is the great state of Idaho. I am very proud to be able to sign this piece of legislation."
"This is a remarkable area. It is used by fishermen, hunters, rafters, people taking hikes. It is not only beautiful, but it's also an important economic engine for the state—attracting tourism, creating jobs. ... We want to urge 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."
 —President Barack Obama
During the same ceremony, Obama also took a moment to thank wildland firefighters tackling fires across the western U.S..

"As I've noted before, we've seen a consistent escalation of the severity and length of wildfire season, and a lot of that is attributable to the fact that climate change" is creating a loss of water and more vulnerability to fires.

He added that his administration is working to funnel more funding towards firefighting efforts, as well as to engage in conservation plans that prevent fires in the first place.

The Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness bill found its way to Obama's desk after it passed in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate earlier this month. Rep. Simpsons crafted the bill as a scaled-down version of past bills he's taken to Congress to garner the area permanent protection. An identical bill passed in the Senate after Sen. Jim Risch helped push it along.

Never before did a Boulder-White Clouds measure see such broad support as bill which finally became law Friday morning. According to the Spokane, Wash. Spokesman-Review, support came from a diverse number of groups including the Custer County Commission, the East Fork of the Salmon River Ranchers, the Idaho Farm Bureau, the Idaho Cattle Association, Idaho Outfitters and Guides, the Pew Charitable Trust, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the Sierra Club and the Idaho Recreation Council—representing motorcycle and snowmobile riders.

The bill establishes three separate Wilderness areas in the Sawtooth and Challis national forests: the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness (67,998 acres), the White Clouds Wilderness (90,769 acres) and the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness (116,898 acres).

Obama's signature on this bill effectively kills the campaign to create a national monument at the Boulder-White Clouds. A national monument would have protected nearly 600,000 acres rather than 275,000, but in a news release, ICL Executive Director Rick Johnson said he's OK with it.

"The national monument proclamation ICL and others have been working towards over the last three years would have protected more acreage; but in the end, Congress decided the time for talk was over, and protected 275,000 acres as wilderness," Johnson said in a statement. "At the end of the day, we are pleased that one of Idaho's most treasured areas finally gets the lasting protection it deserves."

Based on information provided by the affected agencies and assuming appropriation of the necessary amounts, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that implementing the bill would cost less than $500,000 over the 2016-2020 period. 
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