Big Boulder Lakes, from 10,000 feet, in White Clouds Wilderness.
Photo by Allen Powers.
“Beyond the White Clouds” airs Sunday, December 4, at 7 p.m.
For both of them — to paraphrase Elvis — they couldn't help falling in love.
That's the thing about the White Clouds. We noticed it back in 2003, when we produced a show called “White Clouds in Waiting.” The gist of our film was this: The area had been declared a wilderness study area in 1972. How much longer would it take to resolve the conflict of the Boulders and White Clouds mountains?
We now know the answer. In August of 2015 the President signed into law the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act.
There are now three distinct wilderness areas, and the wilderness acreage is smaller than in previous bills. But, having talked with folks on all sides of this on-going debate, the prevailing sentiment is, Thank God it's finally over!
In 2012 OUTDOOR IDAHO tackled the story of Castle Peak and the threat of an open pit molybdenum mine, in our film “A Sawtooth Celebration.”
The election of Cecil Andrus as governor in 1970 was in large part due to his opposition to ASARCO's moly mine in the White Clouds. Two years later, Andrus, U.S. Senator Frank Church, and others pushed through Congress the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, which preserved the open space around the Sawtooths, secured a Sawtooth Wilderness, and also made it difficult for the ASARCO mine to proceed in the White Clouds.
I suppose one could say that the conflict in the White Clouds helped protect the Sawtooths. Of course, the Sawtooths have always been the favored child. That range stretches for miles, along two state highways, in full view of everyone.
As Rick Johnson commented to me in an interview last May at ICL's Wild Idaho conference, “I think it's emblematic of a lot of things about Idaho. You have to go a little further to catch it. It's not the Tetons or Yosemite. You have to work a little harder.” We knew that no one would take OUTDOOR IDAHO seriously if we ourselves didn't work a little harder; and so, we visited each of the three wilderness areas. We traveled to all corners of the White Clouds. Some of our crew even climbed Castle Peak. We traversed the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness, hiking from one end to the other. During that time we also climbed Ryan Peak, the highest point in the Boulders.
All of that country is now part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, and we have two men to thank for that: Congressman Mike Simpson and ICL director Rick Johnson. Of course, they received help along the way from a host of other luminaries, including U.S. Senator Jim Risch and former governor and Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus.
“I will tell you, even if this bill had not been signed into law,” said Congressman Simpson when we interviewed him in May near Redfish Lake, “this effort would have been successful, because we have people talking with each other that would have never talked before, would never sit down at the same table. Now they actually talk to each other.”
That's quite an achievement in itself. But moving from the threat of an open pit molybdenum mine at the base of Castle Peak in the 1960's, to a unanimous vote for wilderness in both the House and the Senate in 2015... now that's the real achievement!
Bill Bernt on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Courtesy of Stephanie Bernt Ellis
That was 211 years ago. Since then outfitting and guiding has become a cherished Idaho tradition. That's because outfitters and guides have the skills and knowledge to help urban folks access the state's wild places. In fact, each year nearly 200,000 people use the services of Idaho's outfitting industry. That’s a huge number, one that translates into $100 million dollars to the Idaho economy.
When I was first presented that number by the Idaho Outfitters & Guides Association, I had my doubts. But put into the bigger picture of an Idaho economy hovering around $65 billion of goods and services, $100 million does make sense.
And the nice thing is that this outfitting business really benefits rural communities, where most of Idaho's outfitters reside.
“It's the oldest and probably the most controlled industry,” said Steve Burson of Storm Creek Outfitters, the current president of the IOGA. “Most other states don't have that much control, so it's a free-for-all within the industry and with some of the clients. We're probably more regulated and more organized and do more professional trips than any other state.”
But, like so many businesses dependent upon discretionary income and catering to the whims of the public, you get a sense that the outfitting industry could be in for some rocky times. For one thing, every major economic downturn seems to severely impact outfitters. I guess that trip-of-a-lifetime can always wait a year or two if the money is tight.
Outfitters like to see themselves as partners with the Forest Service and the BLM; these agencies are the caretakers of most of Idaho's public lands, and outfitters must follow their rules.
“It's going to be critical that our agency partners are able to evolve with us,” says Mike Scott of White Cloud Outfitters, “because in order for us to stay on the cutting edge, there are going to be certain needs that we're going to have; and hopefully we can work through those needs.”
But I'm not so sure that these land managers always see outfitters as their partners. We kept hearing that the communication between outfitter and forest ranger, for example, could use an overhaul. Let's hope this happens, but the tendency for land managers to move every 2-3 years to another forest doesn't bode well for that partnership.
When the Outdoor Idaho crew visited Campbell's Ferry this summer, here's what Doug had to say about outfitting:
“I had a woman once tell me that she got out of her tent in the middle of the night and looked up at the canopy of stars over her head, and her soul expanded. And that soul-expanding experience goes home with people and allows them to be the champions for wild places in the future.
“So keeping alive that constituency and support of wild places, that's our biggest challenge, and that's what needs to be our biggest role.”
Now that’s a mission statement most of us can get behind!
Campbell's Ferry, on the Main Salmon River. photo by Peter Morrill