The Popular Bill That Nobody Loves 

Last week was a rarity for the wilderness bill known as the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA): a week in which there was news about the legislation beyond the changes in its ever-shifting web of supporters and opponents. However, the news was simply that those same supporters and opponents schlepped to Washington, D.C., to testify before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources about what they perceive as either the virtue, or the tragedy, of compromise.

"The old approach to wilderness, of sacrificing the needs of individuals and specific user groups to the benefit of others will not work anymore," U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson told the committee, which is chaired by Idaho Senator Larry Craig. Simpson, who collaborated on the bill with the Idaho Conservation League, was straightforward about his dissatisfaction with some sections of the bill, but said that its plusses, such as creating 315,215 acres of wilderness while providing "economic stability" to Custer County through several federal land transfers, was worth the sacrifice.

"I have told many people that this isn't the bill I would have written--which sounds kind of funny, since I'm the author," Simpson said. "However, it's the compromise that best balances the needs of the people who live near and use and enjoy the Boulder-White-Clouds."

Not a ringing endorsement, you say? Such one-liners have become par for the course for this bill, which passed the House of Representatives in July and continues to move forward even as its creators give it backhanded compliments. That, according to Custer County resident Carole King, is precisely the problem. "I've heard Congressman Simpson say on several occasions that if no one's happy with his bill, he must be doing something right. This is a sad commentary on the process, and surely not a measure of good law. After a collegial chuckle, we still have a bill with which no one is happy."

Idaho Conservation League executive director Rick Johnson, who worked with Simpson to craft the bill, echoed his collaborator's reserved acceptance of the bill in his testimony, speaking of the "rocky middle ground" the pair has cultivated to get this far. "That is not where perfection lies. The bills I wish I could write don't pass Congress," Johnson told BW. "The River of No Return Wilderness, just to look at Idaho, was at the time the most compromised bill ever to pass Congress. It included a lot of things that, with the clarity of today, I wish weren't there, but I'm happy it happened. Very few people would suggest it shouldn't have happened. The question, ultimately is are we going to be able to look back a generation from now and say we're as proud of them as we are of the River of No Return?"

About the City of Stanley's recent withdrawal of support for the bill and the continued opposition of many Custer County residents, Johnson said, "It's not that big of a deal." He pointed instead to some of the new supporters of the bill who made the trip to Washington, including representatives from the outdoor supply companies Cascade Designs, Chaco Sandals and the Outdoor Industry of America, which represents major outdoor suppliers like The North Face, Columbia and Patagonia.

"They're looking at the return on investment," he said. "There are a lot of wilderness bills that are introduced and don't go anywhere. They're seeing something that's going somewhere, and they're seeing an opportunity where they can help."

Craig, whose support is crucial should CIEDRA push through the Senate, was delicate and complimentary in his comments toward the bill's crafters, saying they "deserve considerable respect" for their work, and that he will approach the bill's sponsors to "see if any further compromise can be reached on some sensitive areas."

"I'm confident that the majority of issues that are being raised can be resolved in a timely manner," Johnson said of Craig's concerns. "It doesn't mean we'll be 100 percent, but I don't know that it's going to be necessary to be 100 percent."

--Nicholas Collias

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