Congressman Mike Simpson is serving his ninth term in the House of Representatives for Idaho’s Second Congressional District. Simpson began pushing wilderness for the Boulder-White Clouds in about 2000 and was finally successful in 2015. This interview was conducted by Bruce Reichert at Redfish Lake in May of 2016.
I bet it’s nice to have it done.
It's nice to have it done. You know, if anybody would have told me when we started that it was going to take 15 years, I would have thought, nah, you're crazy. Because to me, when I started it was a challenge, and then it became a passion, and it seemed so obvious of something that needed to get done. And it had been worked on by many people for many, many years before I came along. But I was ‑‑ you know, collaborative efforts like this, where you're trying to bring in a lot of people from widely divergent points of view, it takes a long time to bring people around.
Some politicians might have walked away from this hot potato, but you didn’t.
Well, you know, the more time I spent out here, like I said, it became a passion rather than just a challenge to get it done.
And the Boulder‑White Clouds are iconic, particularly for Idaho. And they needed to be preserved, not for us. They're not going to be destroyed by what we do today and tomorrow; that happens over time. We need to protect them for future generations that will be able to enjoy these, as we are today.
I've got a relative who has always been a good supporter of mine, obviously. And he's an outdoor enthusiast, loves to hunt and fish and ride four‑wheelers and snow machines, but he always wondered why we were doing this wilderness stuff, why that needed to get done.
And his kids wanted to go fishing one time, so he decided to take them up into the Boulder‑White Clouds. And they went hiking up in there, and he said he got up in there, and he stopped, and he looked around and listened to the quiet and said, "I understand now."
And a unanimous decision. Pretty impressive.
We put it on suspension. And in the House when it passes on suspension, it's usually by voice vote. And nobody voted against it. Anybody could have come down and asked for a roll call on it, and nobody did, so essentially it passed by unanimous consent in the House.
When we sent it over to the Senate, a bill had been introduced before in the Senate, so they had held hearings in previous years. And we decided to try a procedure, which is you hold the bill at the desk, you never refer it to committee, and then you bring it up by unanimous consent in the Senate, and pass it. But that has to have the consent of every senator, because any senator can raise an objection, and it won't happen.
And, in fact, when my chief of staff, Lindsay Slater, came up with the idea -- it's a very rarely used procedure -- and the staff on the Senate side of the committee said, "Oh, don't do that; it will hurt you. You'll never get it done if you do that," and all that kind of stuff. And we said, "What have we got to lose, let's go for it."
So Senator Risch helped us, and he made sure that on the Republican side none of the objections came from the Republican side. And Martin Heinrich, a senator from New Mexico, who's a Democrat, and he helped us on the Democratic side. And surprise, surprise it worked.
So there's always winners and losers in any decision like this.
Well, in any compromise, in any collaborative effort people have to give up a little bit of what they want in order for the greater good to accomplish the goal.
And if you talk to the recreationists, the snow‑machiners, the mountain bikers, the people that like the outdoor recreation stuff on motorized vehicles, they gave up some. But we maintained most of their access to their areas that are really important to them. The environmentalists gave up some areas that they would have liked seen put in wilderness, so it's a smaller area than some would have liked to have seen.
That's the nature of a compromise. But when you can walk away from it and say, overall, this is a good deal. And I think everybody can say that.
I imagine the threat of a Monument played a role in this.
I can't say that it didn't. The ICL decided to start pushing that, because, I mean, we've been working on this for 15 years. I've been coming here to the Wild Idaho conference for 15 years, saying, next year, we'll get this done next year. And patience wears thin. And I think they thought that, you know, maybe the way to do this is to do it as a national monument; we won't get a wilderness area, which is the highest protection that we could designate this land.
And so they started to pursue that. And I think the threat of that pushed some people into saying, yeah, we need to sit down and see if we can come to a resolution on this, on a wilderness bill. Because with a national monument, you don't know what the management plan is going to be, what the boundaries are going to be. That's all written in Washington, DC. With this wilderness bill, it's written here by Idahoans, with Idahoans' input.
I think a lot of people are looking at this, saying, it didn't seem to hurt Mike Simpson. Maybe there's a place for this kind of collaboration.
Well, hopefully it does. I mean, that's what's needed a lot more. I mean, politics, you know, when you think about how diverse this state is. And whether you are someone who is opposed to any more wilderness or someone who wanted the whole darned state in wilderness, we all love this land and want to enjoy it, and we want our future generations to enjoy it. So that means coming together and talking together with people from different points of view.
And I will tell you, even if had we never completed this, had this bill not been signed into law, 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 doesn't mean that they always agree, but 90 percent of it is talking. And that's what people are starting to do.
I think this will lead more politicians to say, yeah, you can go out on a limb and try some things and see if you can bring people together to solve some of the environmental problems we have. And in this state environmental problems are huge because we have so much public lands.
And everybody believes that they can manage them better than the land managers that currently manage them. And so that's a challenge for Idaho. But I tell you what, it's like Ernest Hemingway said, "A lot of land this Idaho."
So was it worth 15 years?
Absolutely. Absolutely. Like I said, if somebody would have told me from the beginning it would take 15 years, I would have gone, "I don't know that I'll be here 15 years."
People talk about term limits and how those that have been here for a while are the problem. The reality is if someone wasn't in Congress trying to do this for the last 15 years, it still wouldn't be done. If every four or six years you turn to a new congressman, eventually a congressman is going to go, Why do I want to do that? Why do I want to take on that challenge?
It takes some time to do big things.
Rick Johnson is the director of the Idaho Conservation League. This interview was conducted by Bruce Reichert at Redfish Lake in May of 2016.
It’s been a long, windy road to get to Wilderness for the Boulder-White Clouds. Do you have any thoughts about when it all started?
The White Clouds story goes back to Cecil Andrus and the mine. But the modern chapter is really about Mike Simpson and moving the bill forward.
And in a lot of ways that started right here at Red Fish Lake, where Idaho Conservation League has an annual conference, we call Wild Idaho! And we invited Mike for the first time during his House career in 1999. And we started talking to him about the White Clouds then. We took him on an overflight of the peaks, and we stood in the airstrip and talked about how you get these things done. And that began the conversation.
Some might say Mike Simpson is not somebody that you would necessarily think would be receptive to wilderness.
In the beginning he said, "You know, Rick, you've got to understand that my idea of wilderness experience is when my golf ball gets caught in the rough. So it didn't come naturally, but politics comes naturally. And he saw a challenge. And Mike Simpson is a doer. He saw something that other people hadn't been able to do. And he said, "Well, by golly, I can do that." And, you know, I don't think he ever thought he was getting on a 15-16-year-long train; but, nevertheless, I think he saw it as a political challenge.
But what happened later is he started going out there. And he went out almost every year for a while, brought his staff, frequently. He never brought reporters. He wasn't doing it for show. He was going out there with his watercolors. He was going out there just to spend some time, and it changed him. He fell in love with the place like everybody else has.
And it became personal. And, you know, it's certainly always been personal for me. But, you know, that's my job; I mean, it's my love. I love the White Clouds. But for Mike... to watch that evolution happen and for the relationship to develop, it's pretty powerful.
And you also had to fall in love with the White Clouds.
The very first summer I lived in Idaho, in 1979, my very first trip was into the Boulders. And from then on into the White Clouds. I did a ski trip for over a week in the early '80s.
Extraordinary stuff. I'll never, ever forget the first time I saw Castle Peak. And, frankly, it changed my life.
The interesting thing about Castle Peak is it's such an important mountain, but you can't see it from anywhere.
I think it's emblematic of a lot of things about Idaho; you have to go a little further to catch it. You have to work a little harder to get to know some of the parts about Idaho. It's not the Tetons, or it's not Yosemite. So many things about Idaho you have to work a little bit.
I think one of the things about the White Clouds, too, is they've always been bigger than just the mountains. They've always been bigger than just the East Fork of the Salmon. They've always been bigger. And it started because it was part of the Sawtooth conversation. But, again, you know, off the main road, a little harder to see.
And then the whole history of the moly mine and ASARCO and the governor's race. I mean, who would have imagined that protecting Castle Peak, arguably, helped make 100 million acres of Alaska protected, because a guy got elected governor, Cecil Andrus, who then, because of the White Clouds, became Secretary of Interior. And then later, you know, the whole story begins again.
So Mike Simpson is the Republican version of Cecil Andrus?
Mike Simpson is, arguably, becoming one of the new voices of conservation in the way that Cecil Andrus was one of the old voices. And Mike Simpson has come so far in figuring out how to make Idaho solutions in DC.
Castle Peak really became emblematic of the whole modern conservation movement here. It captured the imagination of all citizens because, frankly, they had to vote on it. It became the centerpiece of the 1970's governor's race. And that led to countless efforts beyond that, everything from the Middle Fork to Hell's Canyon to the Selway, all these things that stitched together the legacy of Frank Church, the legacy of Bethine Church here in the Sawtooth Valley.
But in the end, the White Clouds became this sort of larger-than-life story, because when this conservative Republican from Idaho introduced a bill, they're like - in Washington, DC - what is this about? And then that he kept flogging it for another 15 years. I mean, he became famous for this in Washington, DC. A lot of Idaho people forgot that it was even going on. But he had established a profile with his colleagues and with other people.
And he had the picture on his wall in his office. You walk into Simpson's office, and it's like, What is up with this place? Why does it matter so much? And, you know, those are the unanswerable things about what it means to live in Idaho, what the word "Idaho" means, what does - why does it matter so much to all of us? Everybody has some special part of Idaho, and Castle Peak is really emblematic, I think, of all those places.
Congressman Simpson’s reputation doesn’t seem to have suffered by being aligned with a wilderness bill, in a state where not too long ago you could get into a fight for advocating wilderness.
Well, I suppose that's still possible. But one of the things that I think people are craving for right now is they want to see our government work. I mean in Idaho you can't find anybody that is more proud of being an American than somebody from Idaho. But our system of government is not working at its best these days. And I think that's part of it. Also, getting a bill passed for a place that Idahoans love, it reminds you that democracy works, and people can actually come together with different interests and get the job done.
So were you surprised that it was a unanimous vote?
This took a long time. But, I think of it as sort of the Sisyphus myth. where you're pushing the giant rock, you know, the giant rock up the mountain, and it kept rolling back down on us, it kept rolling down on Mike Simpson.
And he said, "Rick, you know, if it was going to be easy, it would have been done by now." And he never gave up, we never gave up, and together we reached this point where all of a sudden, you know, this rock's rolling downhill. Part of that was the national monument, but part of it was we crossed a certain tipping point, or whatever phrase you want to use, but that rock started going downhill.
And it had to pass unanimously. If it had a recorded vote, then it's going to be different. It had to happen the way it did. The fact that it did is a miracle, but it had to happen that way.
But for a while, you supported a National Monument instead of Wilderness. That must have been hard to swallow for a lot of your supporters.
We've been working for wilderness in the White Clouds for a long time. I personally have been doing it for over 30 years. Wilderness is the gold standard of protection in America today. It is also a standard of protection that Idaho understands. We live with wilderness, and so - it's always been the goal.
Now, after you fight a campaign for 15 years, and you're failing to get there, and all you can see in Congress is more polarization, more division, the chances of really getting it done were getting, frankly, more bleak.
The decision as to whether it's a monument or whether it's wilderness, I think there's a lot of trust from the conservation community in organizations like the Idaho Conservation League. We'd worked on this for a long time, we cared deeply about it. It's about protecting the values of the place. It's not about politics. It's not about personalities. It's about what can we do to permanently protect the values of the White Cloud ecosystem.
And, frankly, wilderness in Congress wasn't looking like it would work. And so we had to shift the strategy.
President Obama has now designated 22 national monuments. This was a very viable strategy. It came to us through Cecil Andrus. He came to our Wild Idaho! Conference right here and challenged us to put Congress aside and start focusing on a national monument. And we embraced that challenge, hard as it was, to create a national campaign. Because that's different than getting your home state delegation. This is actually going above the home state delegation and trying to get the president of the United States to do something in a state that would never vote for him.
So the monument, we reached a point where one of two things were going to happen. It was either going to become a national monument - and we had conversations at the highest level of this administration - or it was going to be a catalyst for the delegation to get back to work. Both those things happened.
It became clear that a monument was going to happen, at many levels; you could just feel it. And then Jim Risch, Mike Simpson, sat down, made some hard choices, other interest groups came to the table, and in a matter of just a couple of weeks they got that done.
Let’s talk about each of the three wilderness areas. How would you describe them?
Well, and to be honest, the Boulder-White Clouds, you know, in the earlier history it was always "the White Clouds," and we attached "Boulder" because more people knew where the Boulder Mountains were. And, frankly, it was a marketing thing, Boulder, hyphen, White Clouds. We wanted the identity to be for those two mountain ranges and for people to understand the interconnectedness of that ecosystem.
I wish the borders were a little bigger, but to make the compromises, we had to - that's just how it had to go. But the Boulder-Hemingway chunk of country really focuses on the front range of the Boulder Mountains, the incredible wild country that's immediately in back of it. Then you have the classic White Cloud peaks with Castle Peak and the stunning lakes. And, you know, that will be probably the part that is most visited and most well-known.
But the real gem is on the other side of the East Fork of the Salmon, and that's the watershed of Herd Creek in the Jerry Peak Wilderness. And that is watershed-based; it's the biggest piece; it is some of the best wildlife habitat, the best opportunities for scenery, the best solitude that you're going to find. The real gem is over there. But it is an extraordinary diversity of mountain, river, sagebrush habitats, all found, it's all in those three places.
Any last words?
It is the only wilderness bill that passed the US Congress in 2015. And I think it's important for people to realize in this presidential administration they've signed four wilderness bills, half of those have included Idaho. That's about people working together, creating the art of the possible, bridging divides between left and right and actually putting Idaho's interests first.
And I think Mike Simpson, Mike Crapo before that, Cecil Andrus, Frank Church - there's a legacy - Jim McClure - there's a legacy of people that put their shoulder to the wheel. And Jim Risch deserves a lot of credit for getting it through the Senate. But Mike Simpson had the vision, and, frankly, he never gave up. And he'll be remembered for that.
Senator Jim Risch was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008 and is currently serving his second term as Idaho’s 28th Senator. He sits on five committees, including the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Risch also served as Idaho’s 31st governor. This interview was conducted by Aaron Kunz in 2016.
Senator, why was it important for you to be involved in this issue?
Well, first of all, I certainly don’t want to exaggerate my part in this. This was Mike Simpson’s bill. He’s been dedicated to this and working hard on it for decades. And he’s the person who really should get all of the credit. Unfortunately, after he drew the bill in the first place many years ago, it got back to Washington, D.C. and back there things were a little out of kilter and it got tilted badly away from what Idahoans really wanted in the bill. So it bogged down, and that lasted for quite some time.
But Mike didn’t give up; he kept after it and kept after it and finally went back and resurrected it, starting essentially over again with the skeletal outlines of the bill that he had, brought the people to the table and we got a bill that was an Idaho bill again; and he was able to get it through the House, and I was able to move it through the Senate.
So, it was done on what we call a collaborative fashion. That’s the only way these things get done is if you get all of the stakeholders around the table. When I was Governor we were dealing with 9.2 million acres of roadless lands and I used that model, the collaborative model, to bring everybody together; and we actually got a rule that now applies to all of what were roadless rules in Idaho; and we’re the only State essentially in the country that has that, and it was done because of the collaborative method.
When you’re talking about collaboration, you had to convince Senators who would be very against this type of bill. How did you convince them?
The way I did this was very simple; I said, “Look, this is Idaho’s bill. This isn’t a bill that was put together nationally. It was put together by Idahoans for Idahoans.” And it was done in such a fashion that we had motorized users, we had all of the people that were stakeholders, the preservationists, everybody was at the table, and it was done in a give and take fashion. And if you do sit down and do it in a give and take fashion, and you do that where people have some level of trust, it can be done. And that’s how I was able to convince other Senators that this was the way to do that.
I think a lot of people were shocked at how quickly it came about, but I imagine there were a lot of moving parts that the public did not see.
And you’re right on that; it appeared quickly, but this had been in the works for decades. So it didn’t come together instantaneously by any stretch. I’ve been working on the Scotchman’s Peak area for some time, for a number of years. We hope to have an important announcement on that a little later in the year, but again it will seem, “Well gees, this just happened.” Well, no it didn’t just happen; it’s been in the works for a long time.
You’ve been Governor here in the State of Idaho. You’ve been a public servant of Idaho; why was it important for you to support a bill like this?
Well we’ve got some really magnificent lands in Idaho. And it’s really important that the choicest of those lands be protected for future generations. And to do that, you do need to have the collaborative system so that everybody has a voice in this and it’s not bigger than what it needs to be, but it is sufficiently large enough that it does protect the more spectacular parts of the land that we all love and recreate on here in Idaho.
First of all, Mike Simpson deserves all the credit on this. But the way this happened was he used the collaborative system where you bring all the stakeholders to the table. I had done the same thing when I was Governor when we were trying to do an Idaho Management Plan for the nine million plus acres of roadless lands that we had here in Idaho. And the only way that can be done is to bring all the stakeholders to the table. Not only the recreational users, the motorized users, the people who are total preservationists who want to stop everything; they need to come together, it needs to be a give and take. Everybody’s got to give a little and everybody gets a little, and if you get some trust going in that fashion, these things can be done. Mike did it there, I did it on roadless. Mike Crapo did it in the Owyhee properties; so this can be done. The only way it gets done is with a collaborative approach.
But compromise and collaboration seem almost not the Washington, D.C. way to a lot of people.
Well, it’s the only way to get things done. And there’s a lot of it that goes on back there, but it’s not newsworthy. The media doesn’t cover everybody getting along and getting the job done. If there’s a fight, that’s got some appeal for people who are watching the news, so they really concentrate on that. But look, if you didn’t have some give and take, the government wouldn’t operate, it couldn’t operate. So there’s a lot of give and take that does go on to get to that point, but it certainly doesn’t make the headlines like a fight does.
Cecil Andrus served 14 years as Idaho’s governor, longer than anyone else. He was also Interior Secretary during the Carter administration, from 1977 to 1981. This interview was conducted by Bruce Reichert in 2016.
Three new wilderness areas. What’s your reaction? Are you happy?
Well, that's always a question that people will ask. But the winners are the public. I don't care whether it's all or part of a pristine area to be protected. When we protect it legislatively, it's a win for the public.
Let's take the Boulder‑White Clouds, for example. There was the group of Sandra Mitchell, who had more influence than she should have on Senator Risch, and all of the motorized recreational people. They got an extra bite out of that. I preferred Mike Simpson's original bill. And I was an early-on supporter of that. And then when Risch went south on us and tied it up, we had to come up with a vehicle. We used a monument of utilization in the Alaska Lands Bill to bring the people back to the table. So some of us decided that maybe we could do the same thing here.
There were hundreds of people that worked on that wilderness. But the two that really deserve all the credit is the congressman, Mike Simpson; he worked for years, and he never quit. And then, of course, Rick Johnson of the Idaho Conservation League. Rick lived on airplanes back and forth to Washington. Those two were the mainstay.
My role was a long-time supporter of wilderness -- but my role was to keep the monument activity alive and active. And I would say to you if it hadn't been for the threat of a monument, they never would have agreed to come back to the table. But once the White House let it be known, privately behind the scenes, if you don't have a wilderness bill, then the president will take executive action. That moved them back to the table.
But they would prefer a wilderness designation legislatively than a monument, and so would I. That would be my preference because that is accomplished by legislative action. And with a monument there are management plans that can be manipulated by any number of individuals: bureaucrats, or special interest folks. But the threat of the monument brought them back to the table.
So we didn't get all the acreage that we thought we wanted, but we got the protection on the main core of everything, and it was a win situation. So am I satisfied? Yes.
You and President Carter used the Antiquities Act of 1906 and Monument status when you were Interior Secretary in Alaska. Could you recount what you did, for those who weren’t born yet?
A lot of people don't understand what we had to do in Alaska. But Alaska is that part of the world where we had the opportunity to do it right the first time. And President Carter was a very, very strong supporter of the necessity for finalizing that during his presidency. And as his Secretary of the Department of Interior, he kind of took me off the leash, so to speak, and said, "All right, you lead on this." But, again, it wasn't me; it was a whole bunch of people that were working.
But we had the nonbelievers in Alaska that knew that there was a time frame when the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act would expire, and they could go in and gobble up all of the special places. Well, we extended that a year. They still refused to come to the table. And I had staff do the research on the Monument. And I arranged a meeting with the president in the White House. And Stuart Eizenstat, who was his domestic advisor, brilliant man, was there with us. And I said, "If we do this, we will protect that land so that they can't step in. But also I think it will cause them to come back to the negotiating table, and we'll finish it."
And I remember the president looked at Stuart and said, "Can we do that?" And Stuart said, "Yes, Mr. President, we can." And he said, "Consider it done."
And he withdrew hundreds of thousands of acres under the Antiquities Act as a Monument. And under the secretarial provision of FLPMA, I had the opportunity to withdraw another sizable amount. And I remember Alaska Senator Ted Stevens called me up immediately on the phone and jerked me up to the hill; you know, they loved to pull bureaucrats around; and I dutifully had to go up and sit down.
And he said, "Mr. Secretary, you have misused the Antiquities Act." And I said, "Senator, maybe you think so, but it's absolutely legal, and it's done, and all I'm asking is that you, in good faith, bring the people back to the table and that we get this resolved." And he's a man of his word. He said, "Okay, we'll do it."
And he and I met a lot of times, privately. And in the political world you do some little different things. And he would go to Anchorage and to the Anchorage Times newspaper and just -- he'd tell me he was going up -- and he just was going to take my hide off. And he would say that blankety‑blank so‑and‑so Secretary Andrus, you know, and then he'd come back, and we'd sit down and work out some deals. He had a tremendous amount of knowledge of Alaska. And he could tell me where some of the mineralized areas were. And he was very helpful in that regard.
Now, he wanted a little more than we gave him, but it worked out. And in 1980, between the elections, the president signed the bill. And again, a tremendous win for the world.
So, anyway, the Alaska Lands Bill more than doubled all of the national park acreage in America. We protected 103,000,000 acres with the stroke of the president's pen. And it was a victory. But the utilization of the Antiquities Act was the key to bringing some of those hard‑nosed right‑wingers back to the table.
Your comments about you and Alaska Senator Stevens reminds me how you as governor, and Mike Simpson as Idaho Speaker of the House, managed to get along.
When the Congressman was the Speaker in the Idaho legislature, yeah, we had differences of opinion, but he'd come down to the office -- I couldn't go to the third floor -- but he'd come down to the office, and we'd sit down and resolve the problems. And we always were able to communicate with one another.
And when he started the work on the Boulder‑White Clouds area, I was one of the early supporters. And, again, Rick Johnson kind of engineered that get‑together. And I have tremendous respect for Mike. He's worked hard.
But, anyway, politically, that's the good days. But he, Phil Batt, myself, people on both sides of the aisle, we weren't rancorous and spiteful and hateful. We had differences of opinion, but we'd sit down and work out a deal. And I don't know who said it, but politics is the art of compromise. And that's what's taken place in every wilderness debate.
Several folks have wondered, so what does Castle Peak in the White Clouds have to do with the Sawtooth Mountains?
Oh, a lot. In 1970 the issue of Castle Peak and the molybdenum mine, ASARCO's legitimate mining claim in that area, was the first time that the public saw a long period of time of debate; and the educational aspect of the importance of the environment is something that they got a taste of. And they knew that it was a situation where we could explain the destruction for just simple economic gains. It was a mineral that was low‑priced and, at that time, it wasn't needed.
So then that election took place. A funny thing happened in 1970: a Democratic lumberjack from North Idaho stumbled into the governor's office. But two years later Senator Church, myself, and others, worked to create Sawtooth National Recreation Area. And that was the controversy of Castle Peak, and the moly mine there and everything was still fresh in the minds of the people.
And Ernie Day and his photography of Railroad Ridge, Bruce Bowler, Ted Trueblood, all those people were there to remind the folks that, hey, this is a very unique, pristine area. It didn't qualify for wilderness because of the inholdings throughout it. But it did qualify for a national recreational area, which we have today. And the beauty and the majesty of the Sawtooths is there for us to enjoy, and for future generations to enjoy.
So I think young people today might say, sure, every politician is going to get behind this notion of stopping ASARCO at the base of Castle Peak. But those were different times. I mean, there were some political liabilities to taking that position.
The governor of the state of Idaho, at that point in time, and his director of the Department of Commerce were very vocal. Industry was not exactly enamored with that lumberjack that became governor and some of the proposals. But, again, we worked our way through it, and now that area is protected.
Keep in mind, though, it really wasn't protected until the Boulder‑White Clouds passed in wilderness status. It's a situation where they had a legitimate mining claim, and we blocked off access and created a protection for the East Fork of the Salmon and some other things. But that was the beginning of a lot of wins.
And, today, people don't understand it, but Idaho is second only to California in the Lower 48 in total acreage of wilderness. And there's still more we have to look at: the Pioneers, the Upper St. Joe, the Upper Clearwater, some others. There will be plenty for you young people to do out there when guys like me are long gone.
For you, Castle Peak really was one of the touchstone subjects that really kicked off your statewide political career.
I have a beautiful photo of Castle Peak, framed, in my home, and the caption that I have for it when people point to it, I say, "Yes, that's the mountain that created a governor." I mean, it is. You know, it gave me that edge in 1970.
And then there was a lot of publicity nationwide, that this is the first gubernatorial election where an environmentalist was elected as governor of a state. And so, yeah, that was a situation where the people got involved.
And it really led to a whole series of conservation victories that wouldn't have happened.
You just click them off. And people have forgotten that what we now call "The Frank," but the River of No Return Wilderness Area, that wasn't finalized until I was Secretary of the Interior, and we got it passed. And, again, it was signed during the lame‑duck session of 1980. And then after we lost Frank, and then it was named the Frank Church‑River of No Return Wilderness Area. But Bruce Bowler, Ernie Day, and Ted Trueblood, some of those old-timers, they had a lot to say about the importance of those unique, pristine areas.
Now, I mentioned almost 6 million acres of wilderness. But there's 54, almost 55 million acres of land in Idaho. So that's, roughly or approximately, 9 percent of the area. So there's plenty of other areas for the utilization of commerce, of motorized vehicular activities. There's room for all of us if we just use our heads and sit down and work these things out.
Now, again, Scotchman Peak, good example, everybody is for it. It's hard to find anybody that will argue the other side. But maybe we're through puberty and into adulthood.
Any thoughts on mountain bikers wanting a part of Wilderness?
What do we call it, a new generation of users of the topography of Idaho. Some people want to present a dry fly to a rising fish. Some people want to ride their bikes, like the gentleman that rode through here a moment ago. Those people who hunt upland game birds. All of the various -- elk season, deer season -- all of those activities are out there with people that like to enjoy. That's part of Idaho. That's why we live here. That's why it's so important that we don't ignore anyone.
But I would submit to you that 9 to 10 percent of the land being held in wilderness status is not a very large amount. It sounds like a large block of land, but it's those pristine, unique areas where we were trying to salvage a remnant of some special something, unlike Alaska, like I said, where we had the opportunity to do it right the first time.
So we've got a piecemeal, a mosaic, if you will. Or if any of the ladies that might be watching make quilts, you know how they save little pieces of cloth to put into the patterns of their quilts? That's really what we're doing with the real estate.
Ed Cannady has been traveling the backcountry of the Boulder/White Clouds for over 40 years and has worked for the Sawtooth National Recreation Area for more than 25 years as a wilderness ranger and backcountry manager. This interview was conducted by Bruce Reichert in 2016.
You know the Boulder-White Clouds as well as anyone alive. What’s your take on the Wilderness designation? Who were the winners?
The thing that benefits the most from the passage of the wilderness bill is the place itself. The place will be as it is today in perpetuity now; that's guaranteed. The place commands respect from people as soon as they experience it. For a lot of people that's just through photographs. But once you visit the place, it just sets its hooks in you, and it will not turn loose. And so that loyalty that people are going to have to that place for the rest of their lives, will benefit it for the rest of time, certainly for several lifetimes.
So the place, itself, was the primary winner. The wildlife and the plant species and the fish species that inhabit the Boulder-White Clouds, they're the winners. They're the primary winners. And the people who like to go visit amazingly, astoundingly beautiful places.
The pace of our lives have increased so dramatically over the past 120, 150 years, light-years, compared to how slowly the pace of life changed over the previous several thousand years. We've just made this amazing leap forward, and our lives are so much busier and so much more frenzied and harried now. So to be able to go to a place that is going to be peaceful and quiet, where you slow your pace, people who enjoy that and who realize the benefits of that -- and science is increasingly documenting how important that is to people for mental and physical health -- the people who want those benefits are the secondary winners from the wilderness bill.
There are three wilderness areas. And each one is different. Give us a brief explanation of each.
The White Clouds have the most trails. It's the most heavily used of the three wilderness areas; it has the most trails, it has the most lakes, between 120 and 150 alpine lakes, depending on how you define a lake, a lot of them with trails to them. And in the White Clouds the terrain's pretty kind, even given how vertical it is, so it's pretty easy to go off-trail. So the White Clouds get the most use. It's also, probably, the most scenic, even though that's a tough call because they're all three exquisitely beautiful. So the White Clouds have more use. You can always camp by a lake, if you like. And it's easier to access.
The Boulders are tough to travel, very few trails in the Boulders, and most of the trails we do have just go up into a basin and end, dead-ends at a headwall. I'd call traveling in the Boulders graduate-level travel. Challenging, steep, loose, they're all just big, huge rubble piles, but astounding terrain, wildlife rich. You earn your rewards in the Boulders, but the rewards are great.
Solitude is easy to find in the Boulders because most people want to camp by lakes, and they want trails, so a lot tougher to access, but if solitude and silence is truly what you're looking for -- I don't like to be selfish, but people can do their homework and figure it out for themselves. And most people if that's what they're looking for, they're willing to do that to find it.
The Jerry Peak Wilderness is very remote, not very many well-maintained trails. And that's not a knock on the trail maintenance; it just doesn't get the level of use that makes the efforts to maintain the trails worthwhile. But extremely important wildlife winter range. Lower elevation, but steep and remote. You have to be good at orienting yourself with maps to do much travel there, but solitude, again, is really easy to find.
So you have these three wilderness areas, all of them different from each other. That must put a bit of a burden on the agencies administering them. And as we all know, Congress is not always quick to throw money at something that they've designated. What do you do if you're an agency?
Well, we seem to always manage to find a way to do what needs to be done, not to the level we would like, maybe. But what is going to be required will come out of the wilderness management plan that's being developed. So we won't really know exactly what we have to do until the wilderness management plans are completed. And the public will have a lot of opportunity to be involved in the development of those plans.
Our hope in the White Clouds and the Hemingway-Boulders is to have a draft management plan out in the spring or summer of 2017. And then the BLM and the Salmon-Challis National Forest are doing the wilderness management plan for the Jerry Peak. And their plan is to have it sometime in 2018.
We definitely have experience managing wilderness. But the BLM has experience with wilderness. They have the Owyhee Wilderness areas now. And the BLM is a real dynamic agency. I'm not concerned about their ability to take hold of it and deal with it.
You’re known for your photography. Photographers surely will love these new wilderness areas.
It is an amazing place for photography. And it's not that well known, in comparison to places like Oxbow Bend and Grand Teton or Schwabacher's Landing and places like that. But I like to get different perspectives than you see from Sawtooth photographs. I have a lot of photos of Little Redfish Lake, you bet. Everybody does, how could you not?
But I like to climb the ridges and think about where the sun's going to come up, where it's going to set. What time of the year am I going to shoot if I want a spring shot. Or fall, fall is one of my favorite times to shoot, of course. So I'm willing to burn the calories to get that different viewpoint, to climb a ridge and sleep out. I got driven off a ridge by a storm last fall, where I had to hike out in the dark because I didn't think I was going to make it if I didn't. So I'm willing to take those chances to get the unique shots of both the Boulders and the White Clouds.
And as far as people seeing that photograph and saying, "Oh, yes, I've seen that," that doesn't happen nearly as often. But as far as people seeing the photo and saying, "Wow, that's an amazing place," that happens a lot more often.
Sounds like you’re not afraid of snow and rough conditions!
I suffer well. And that's a prerequisite for doing a lot of the trips that I do. And, yeah, I'm willing to carry a heavy pack. I've said before that I'm fortunate in that the only addiction I've ever dealt with in my life is carrying a heavy pack in steep country.
Well, the storm last fall, I knew it was going to storm, so I took my little one-person tent. And the storm was so severe that my tent was about to leave me. It was about to be shredded. I was afraid a tent pole was going to break and stab me in the face. And I thought, I can't do it without a tent, so the best thing for me to do is get up and pack up and hike out by headlamp. And so I did and just slept the rest of the night -- or spent the rest of my night, I didn't really sleep -- in the back of my truck.
A couple of summers ago I slept on top of a peak in the White Clouds where there was barely room for me to lie down. And I had a sleeping pad on the ground. It went flat at 1:37 a.m. -- I still remember the time -- it went flat. And sleeping on the ground there was not a possibility, so I just sat up the rest of the night with my feet hanging over the edge. The good thing was I didn't have to set my alarm to shoot the sunrise.
I travel by myself a lot, easily 90 percent of the time. And I know by going by myself I'm taking additional risk, so I take additional precautions. It can be a pretty cerebral activity to figure out how to do this safely. I'm not afraid to turn back. I realize that a lot of things I'm going to try are not going to work. And if it gets too sketched out, I'm not at all afraid or too proud to turn around and come back and try something else.
I like to look for metaphors in nature. I've learned that what often seems like a huge obstacle in your life will be an obstacle, but there's almost always a way through. There's almost always a way to get over that obstacle. It helped me tremendously when I'd had cancer. When I dealt with my cancer, I viewed that as another obstacle; I was going to find a way through.
It’s been a year since the creation of the wilderness designation; I’m curious what kinds of comments you’re hearing from people.
Gratitude. I've heard a lot of gratitude, a lot of thanks, and a lot of recognition of how special the place is and how richly it deserved the wilderness designation. As I said earlier, the place commands respect as soon as you experience it.
Mike Simpson has told the story that he appreciated the place and wanted to make an effort to protect it, but when he finally stood on top of Chamberlain Divide and saw that view of Castle Peak, that's when he knew he had to do what it took, whatever was necessary to make it happen. And the place has that effect on people. And so people truly do appreciate -- not everyone, of course, but that's never going to be the case -- but people truly do appreciate that finally this place has the protection it deserves.
It's important to remember that the Boulder-White Clouds have always been special. They've always been an amazing place. On August 7th of 2015 the US Congress and the American people finally acknowledged how special the place is by designating it as wilderness. But the place didn't change. It did not change anything on the ground. The place was still just as special as it was 20 years ago; it just has that official title now.
On one side of the wilderness is Sun Valley/Ketchum; on the other side, Challis. Talk about ying and yang. How do you deal with that?
Well, you deal with it by talking to everyone and listening to everyone. Everyone recognizes how special the place is. Everyone has different issues that they have to deal with. Custer County has the problem of being 96 percent public land, pretty small tax base. So they have real issues that they have to deal with that Blaine County -- it's different for Blaine County. So we talk to them and try to find solutions working with them, and same thing with Blaine County.
But it is pretty interesting how dramatic the difference between the two counties; that dividing line, they abut right in the middle of the SNRA. But we treat both with respect and have good dialogue with them and try to come to solutions that work for everyone.
Were you surprised that it was a unanimous decision by both Senate and House?
Yes and no. Yes, in that it's hard for Congress to agree on anything. But, no, because of how hard Congressman Simpson worked and how much work had gone into it over the last many years. And, again, the fact that the place sells itself. The photos that were shared with people in Washington, DC, the people who actually came and visited the White Clouds, in particular, the place sells itself. So I was surprised because it's Congress, but I wasn't surprised because it's the Boulder-White Clouds.
You had an opportunity to recently spend time with Congressman Simpson near Castle Peak. That must have been interesting.
Oh, it was amazing. You know, we had celebrated a couple of times already. But to actually be in the wilderness with the congressman and the chief of the Forest Service and Rick Johnson and Rocky Barker, and others who were a part of this story for a very long time, to actually be there and drink a toast to Castle Peak, at the foot of Castle Peak, was amazing. It was just one of the best trips I've ever done. The feeling was just euphoria the whole time.
Craig Gehrke is the state director for the Wilderness Society. He is an Idaho native who grew up on a cattle and wheat ranch. This interview was conducted by Bruce Reichert in 2016.
Three new wilderness areas, the newest in the nation. What did the nation gain?
The Boulder-White Clouds is unique even for Idaho, because you have three very diverse landscapes and a very diverse wildlife and fish population. It's almost 900 miles to the Pacific Ocean for those fish that are going up the East Fork and up Herd Creek. You have bighorn sheep, you have pronghorn, you have mountain goat, you have wolverine, you have all the game species. And even for Idaho to have that kind of diversity, in a relatively compact area, is just special.
And that's kind of why the White Clouds have stood out for so long, is that folks have realized, first, they're a spectacular mountain range. I mean, you see them from a ridge, say, in the Jerry Peak Wilderness; looking back across the White Clouds, it's a stunning landscape. You see them from Horton Peak on the Sawtooth side. And it's like, wow, this is one of Idaho's unique places.
So I think what we've gained is the commitment that Idahoans started a long time ago, that this place deserves the best we can do for it.
They’re 20 miles from the Sawtooths, and they look quite different from that mountain range.
You're on this very characteristic granite for Central Idaho. And then you're in the White Clouds, and you look around, and there's bits of agate on the trail. And you have the basalt formations here. So just in that little space is completely different, and it is noticeable.
And then the color of the White Clouds, I mean, that is just spectacular. And you see some of Mark Lisk's work and the photography he's done, it's like, man, I mean, talk about a range of light. And even as beautiful as the Sawtooths is, you don't have those stark-White ridges that cap the White Clouds.
And what about the Jerry Peak area?
Jerry Peak is largely managed by the Bureau of Land Management. And clear back in the '80s they had recommended that to be a wilderness area. And about the same time the Forest Service had recommended the core of the White Clouds to be wilderness. The country in between, nobody looked at that. The agencies certainly didn't consider a landscape look at this.
So one thing that Congressman Simpson did in his bill was he put those two individual wilderness areas together in one and the connection between. And it's incredibly diverse wildlife habitat because it's aspen, it's willow, it's sagebrush, it's grass, it's forest, it's up into the high country around Jerry and Herd Peak itself. Those transitions are important for wildlife because it gives them summer/winter range there in one spot.
The conservationists, back in the early 1980s, had proposed a half million acre Boulder-White Cloud wilderness, which included all that country, and, of course, we had supplied the maps to the different Congressional delegations considering wilderness, and it caught Simpson's eye. And he thought, yeah, this is something we could do that makes some sense on the land, to have the diversity of land types, habitat types, protected in wilderness, and connect these two places that the agencies and folks had supported for wilderness.
I think Jerry Peak surprised a lot of folks. They had heard of the White Clouds and the Boulders, but Jerry Peak, not so much.
It gets back to our biases, to some degree, because a lot of times you don't think of that more sublime country as being wilderness. We think of the White Clouds proper, and you think of the Sawtooths, and you think the Crags, oh, yeah, that's wilderness. But a lot of times the most important wildlife habitat is the relatively more gentle country.
And I can guarantee you that if you're looking for solitude in the White Clouds, you're going to go to Jerry Peak. Because you go up the trail, you go up Bowery Creek, you go up West Pass Creek, you go up Herd Creek, chances are you're not going to see anybody. So if you visit that country and you want to get away from others and have a real wilderness experience, after folks get familiar with it, they're going to head to the Jerry Peak Wilderness.
How long had wilderness advocates had their eye on the Jerry Peak area?
I've not ever seen the original map that the Greater Sawtooth Preservation Council put together for the park proposal; but I know the White Clouds, the Boulders, the Pioneers, were all part of that, but I don't know if it went that far east or not.
But the first I was aware of it was when the conservationists were doing what was called "Alternative W," for "wilderness," when the Forest Service and BLM back in the late '70s, early '80s were doing their land management plans. And then it was always included in our proposal for wilderness.
At what point was it decided to include these lands in this legislation?
Simpson’s first CIEDRA versions had that in it. And the first CIEDRA versions were pretty tough to swallow, because he had huge conveyances of public land to private interests, and he had a lot of micromanagement trail language; but, then, he also had some very good land allocations. And, you know, folks like myself kind of sucked it up and kept working on it because we wanted that prize of what Jerry Peak was going to be. Because the idea of having that broad swath of country between Jerry Peak, Herd Peak, and the White Clouds as wilderness was a big motivator for us.
One thing you've gotten in Jerry Peak is that you've got this transition, this country from willow, aspen, sagebrush, grass, to forest to above timberline. And that's the kind of habitat you want to protect in Idaho. It's diverse. It supports a lot of different wildlife. It supports clean water. And it's a diversity that the wilderness system in general strives to get now.
About 24,000 acres of the new Jerry Peak Wilderness is BLM land. And it was formerly one of four wilderness study areas in the region. The acreage, at least from the BLM's WSAs totaled over 155,000 acres. So was this a good tradeoff? And how do you personally feel?
I personally don't look back and regret it at all. I feel it was a good tradeoff. Part of the thing is because of the connection to the White Clouds. I think the diversity in the areas that did get wilderness is higher than the areas that weren't wilderness. We cut across the wilderness release threshold with the Owyhees. You know there was 250‑some‑thousand acres released down there.
It's always been a give and take with wilderness. I mean, anybody who thinks you're going to go into wilderness and get everything you want, has never seen a wilderness bill happen. So we've kind of got our antibodies built back up now. We know that's the way it's going be.
And it's always been a tradeoff, whether, you know, pieces were left out of from the last version of CIEDRA to what went through the final part. That was probably harder for us than the release of these WSAs that had been released and kind of been on the chopping block, if you will, since the early versions of Simpson's efforts.
The decision as needs to be made when we find places in Idaho that we want to be left wild. I mean, the decision as to protect the wild nature of the place, the primitive nature of it is a conscious one. It just doesn't happen. If you don't make that decision, if Idahoans don't make that decision, then we lose it.
We've seen through the decades, if you're interested in wild character, you've seen the dramatic increase of motorized vehicles, of mountain bikes, whatever, the places that we don't make that decision of wildness is important will be lost.
And this is what we gained, we found another place in Idaho - and, you know, despite the critics, there aren't that many of them - where folks who come together and say this place is as good as it gets, and we want to keep it this way, we want to share this with people coming after us; that there's nothing we can do here to make this place better other than try to protect this character that is right now, as we've enjoyed it.
So what was lost?
What did we lose? Well, you know, we lost the whole release question of some places that won't be considered for wilderness anymore. Again, every bill for Idaho has had those tradeoffs, whether it involves jet boats or airstrips, or whatever, mining claims, that's just the process of doing business with wilderness legislation; you make those tradeoffs. At the end of the day, you hope you've made good ones.
I imagine you get beat up on a fairly regular basis about this whole thing.
We do. We do. Because whether it was with the Owyhees or the White Clouds here, there are folks who argue that the nation can't afford to lose any more wild country, that it's eroding before our eyes. And on a broad scale, they're right. But stopping a decision, stopping an effort like this, doesn't save anything, because a rear guard, a stalling action is not good for the land. You know, we've seen that happen out here.
And so you're right, I mean, there are folks who’ve argued that we're too willing to compromise, that we didn't get enough. That's what stalled out. You know, earlier versions of Simpson's bill that came under fierce criticism, as did we, as we kept working with his office and him to try to make it better. Several groups urged us to walk away, telling us you can never trust this Republican; don't trust these guys. Well, there was always enough in his bill and just enough in his demeanor and his manner of trying to work this through to say, you know, we owe it to the White Clouds to do this.
Why was this BLM land more appropriate for wilderness?
I think there's a couple of reasons. The main one being that the Jerry Peak country is just a perfect complement to the White Cloud, and it completes much of the East Fork Salmon River, Upper East Fork Salmon River, to be protected as wilderness, and it's a contrast to the ruggedness of the White Clouds. And like I mentioned earlier, it's wild in its own way. It's wilder because I think you're going to run into a lot less people there. And the wildlife diversity is pretty incredible for that country.
What's also unique is it's completely different from the BLM wilderness areas we have in the Owyhees. I mean, that's very much basin‑arranged, deep‑canyon country. This is more of the sagebrush, grass, willow, forest. The people don't automatically think about BLM. And it's good to have a diversity in the wilderness system, places protected so we can learn how these places are going to look 100 years from now without hands‑on management, because Lord knows we have enough places we've got hands‑on management to see how they're going to fare. We need some set aside that we just learn from.
And that's been one of the really important things for us for wilderness, is a little humility in land scale management and land scale examination. Take a look at the climate change coming down, because we will learn more just watching how nature, how wildlife, how fish cope with climate change than we're ever going manage for success to help them survive climate change.
Given enough space and room, a lot of ecologists think wildlife, by and large, we hope, will figure it out, but they've got to have places to go. They've got to have summer range connected to winter range. They've got to have wildlife corridors between places. And this gets to the question of we step up and help protect this land so that the animals that live there have the best shot they can, you know, getting into the future.
I think Jerry Peak is going to be one of the sleeper areas in this wilderness complex, for solitude, for getting away from it all, because it just gets less traffic and visitation. So it's a place where you can go and you'll see wildlife, and you'll see some really wild country. It's really got its own charms. And it is a very endearing place. It's very wild. And it's another little hidden part of the state that people aren't aware of. And it's comforting to know that that's going to stay that way now. It's part of this bigger wilderness. We got the job done. And people after us are going to be able to enjoy that experience there that we have.
Getting the job done has got to feel pretty special in this particular instance.
It does. This one was on the radar screen for a lot of folks. I mean, I knew Ernie Day. I knew Bruce Bowler. And we knew Bill Miners. And we knew people who had worked on this who saved the White Clouds, basically, back before there was a very well‑organized environmental group.
The folks who saved Castle Peak - this was in the days before there were, you know, Patagonia grants and REI grants and days before flying into DC to lobby Congress. This was a bunch of people who came home from work, figured out that evening what to do, volunteered and got the job done, put this on the map and made it a statewide issue. Editorials in the Lewiston Tribune about this. You know, editorials, obviously, in Idaho Falls.
It really became an environmental cause for the state, one of the first big ones. You know, Hells Canyon came along, too, and the debate about the Sawtooths was kind of happening at the same time. But this really was a line in the sand about there are places that mines don't belong. And Castle Peak was one of them.
And, you know, we do our campaigns now, and I think a lot of times about how there was obviously a Wilderness Society staffer looking after four or five states at one time. And I'm thinking, I bet he was a lot of help on those campaigns because he was in Montana and Wyoming and Idaho!
And I just think of what they accomplished without anything we kind of take for granted these days, you know, no internet, and no email. They were sending telegrams to Frank Church. They were writing letters, taking media on field trips up there. They pioneered a lot of the techniques we do now and, obviously, improved along with technology.
It does make you really appreciate the fact that nobody got paid to do this. They just loved the place, and they weren't going to let anything happen to it.
A lot of wilderness bills aren’t clean and simple. This one is relatively clean, it seems.
Certainly the version of the White Cloud legislation that passed was much cleaner, much simpler than the first version that Congressman Simpson wrote. I think he tried to address a lot of issues in the earlier versions. And that just made it more complicated. You know, the bigger and more ambitious you are, everybody's your critic at that point. And I think he learned, as time went on, that you're not going to solve everything in one fell swoop, but you can solve two or three big issues and then come back and do something another day or find other avenues to address it.
Wilderness bills have always had non-wilderness provisions in them, to talk to problems and talk to the interest groups, which politically you need to have on your side. I think that once Congressman Simpson simplified this effort, that really helped to grease the skids legislatively, and it just made it a much smaller target for a lot of different interest groups.
Mountain biking in wilderness areas and the Utah delegation bill. I'm sure you're all for it!
How much time do you have on your tape here? I could talk a long time about this.
So the White Clouds often gets pointed to as the example of why mountain bikers kind of got all riled up. We had just talked about how it was the wilderness advocates that helped protect the White Clouds early on. If it hadn't been for wilderness advocates, you know, Castle Peak would have been ground up and hauled away one truckload at a time.
So I mean there's a certain amount of history that is bothersome, when folks try to claim this was a long‑time mountain‑bike‑use area, because it wasn't. It hadn't been. It had been growing in popularity. The idea that you should have mountain biking in wilderness, I mean, for over 50 years now the commitment had been made to an area, you know, you can call it untrammeled, you can call it primitive. It's pretty specifically a law that said there will be no mechanical uses here. And you can't get much more mechanical than the geared mountain bikes or the new e-Bikes, the battery‑assisted, power‑assisted mountain bikes are coming here.
So to allow a mountain bike in a wilderness area is just going to forever change the character of what people go there to expect to enjoy. And the commitment was made with this system, is that these are the few places we're going to have where you walk or you ride a horse, you take the land on its own, not on how much you can spend in a mountain bike shop.
The GAO came out with a report that there are 20,000 miles of non-wilderness trails in Idaho, 3,700 miles of wilderness trail. There's no lack of trails - that's just on Forest Service land - there's no lack of trails in Idaho for mountain bikers. And the idea that, well, now we need to get into the Sawtooths and get into the White Clouds or get into the Frank Church is like that's going to be a very big fight if it's pursued.
But, you know, one thing we learned is that there's no shortage of crackpot ideas trying to change what wilderness is about. And this is the latest one. And it's unfortunate, because I think a lot of the mountain bike community are often conservation‑minded. This is a place we couldn't disagree more with them, about the appropriateness of mountain bikes in the wilderness.
Wouldn't you like to see all those young people advocating for wilderness, though?
At some point it has to be you accept wilderness for the merits of its own and decide that, okay, I'm going to walk here versus do my mountain biking here. And you're right, how many times do you walk away from a potential constituency here? But it just comes down to the price to pay is not worth what it would do to what wilderness is supposed to be about; and it's not worth the compromise for the constituency.
John Freemuth is a political scientist at Boise State University and the executive director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy. This interview was conducted by Bruce Reichert in 2016.
It doesn’t seem like the mountain bikes-in-wilderness issue has died down. What’s your take on it?
What's interesting about this whole business is that those who supported wilderness, and still do, are aging. I mean, the leaders are. With the mountain bike side of the younger generation, there's a real interesting split.
One of the ways you can see that is you can look at all the language around wilderness and its passage. And much of it is poetic, it's spiritual, it's go experience it, but on its own terms. Much of the language of mountain bikers -- and we don't want to say all mountain bikers, because they are split on this -- is about that country as thrill, as someplace to have fun, gnarly, and not wilderness.
And what's interesting to people like me is, is that going to become a dominant position in the next 30 years? The question is, can we find a space to acknowledge that there is a place for everyone in the Idaho country, backcountry, front country, wilderness; or do we end up in the politics that I have to eliminate your use to protect my use. That's the fulcrum we always balance on.
At least in the past, when we found places and spaces for us to do activities, we acknowledge that the other person's activity, whether I did it or not, was legitimate. You know, I've worked a lot with Fish and Game. I don't hunt, but I've worked with them on a lot on hunting-related issues because it's a valuable activity in Idaho, and it ought to continue and be celebrated. That's one kind of politics.
That leads to compromise because you acknowledge that the other folks' values, while not yours, are still meaningful and important. If you think you're right and the other guy's wrong, you want to win, and you don't want them to get anything, and, therefore, no wilderness and no mountain bikes anywhere-- or whatever it is -- no grazing, no logging, and then that's a politics of confrontation, not of compromise.
What do you make of the relationship that developed between Andrus and Simpson over wilderness?
I'll tell a story, but Governor Andrus should tell this story. I was in his office one day as Andrus Center senior fellow at the time, and he said, "Guess what I'm doing? I'm writing a check. "And it was for Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. And he said, "We fought like cats and dogs, but he kept his word, and I always acknowledge that by this little check, if he's running for election, even though you know I'm a Democrat and he was a Republican."
And I imagine that's the relationship between Mike Simpson and Cecil Andrus. They are of that world view of compromise. They'll fight hard for their values, but they appreciate the other person and where they're coming from.
And a lot of it, I've intuited, just talking to some folks, has to do with trust. You keep your word, as he said of Ted Stevens. What balls it all up is if somebody lies, and then the relationship's gone.
What’s your take on the use of the Antiquities Act and the threat of a National Monument?
This Antiquities Act stuff is fascinating, given what the president is doing right now. And I have argued that Barack Obama is now using it to tell the rest of the American story. You know, not just these landscapes we celebrate or even history that we loved, but history we're not proud of: Minidoka, Manzanar, Cesar Chavez's birthplace. Now, we celebrate Cesar Chavez, but that movement was confrontational and angry for a lot of people who didn't like Chavez. The site for the first gay battles happened in New York.
And it's turning the Park Service into, because they do the interpretations, the keepers of America now, not just along with the Forest Service and BLM, of these landscapes. And that's an interesting story.
There’s always been some tension between the Forest Service and the Park Service over who should administer what lands.
The idea that the Sawtooth National Recreation Area ought to be a unit in the park system, I think, is about as gone as you can imagine. I know retired Forest Service people and current Forest Service people who think the Forest Service could do a better job. The Forest Service has always been worried that somehow if they showcase it, then somebody will say, well, why not put that in the Park system. It's perverse thinking. They ought to showcase it. Congress already said so in the legislation, as they did with Hells Canyon. And so why not say that Congress told us to treat this special.
They've done better in the interpretation, but the interpretation compared to what the National Park Service does with interpretation is light years' difference. And I love the folks up at the Sawtooths, who do a great job, but the point is, it is a special area, and you could do more without, you know, lodges and the fear of what all that brings.
Turnover in the Forest Service seems part of the problem. I know outfitters who think it’s hindered the notion of partnership they once felt with the Forest Service.
That is one of the biggest problems -- I think not so much in the Park Service but BLM and the Forest Service -- is they've always moved people a lot. And you were supposed to do it to get other experiences and to move up and to not marry the natives, literally. But now our politics is different. You sort of want to marry the natives. You want to gain their trust, become embedded in the community: That's the Forest Service here, and that's Cathy or that's Bob, and we love them because they work with us so much.
The agency struggles with that. There's no easy answer, because the moving of people is kind of how they do things, and you don't just want people to embed in the place, and so somebody else would like a detail in the Sawtooths, and they're never going to get it. So it's tough.
Last question, what was your initial reaction when the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness bill finally became law?
It sounds like the wilderness people probably got less than they would have liked, but it was a compromise, and they dealt with it. It was the art of the possible at that point.
That's our politics. I've known Rick Johnson for 30 years, and he has become a statesman about all this. It doesn't mean he's not as passionate as he always was.
But you're always going to get people who say, you sold the farm, you gave it up. And then you're going to get people that go, we got something done finally. That's American politics. And, to me, I'm always of the thought that most of the time you want to compromise. You don't want to get it all, because then it's suggesting that you're rolling other people. And people don't stay rolled forever.
Geoff Baker is an attorney and avid mountain biker. This interview was conducted in 2016 by Bruce Reichert.
Prior to the wilderness bill, the mountain bikers seemed to have worked out an arrangement with those pushing a national monument concept. What happened?
For several months you had the non-biking conservation community in discussions with the mountain-biking groups about a national monument, and where they could come to an agreement, and they did come to an agreement, as to what groups were going to be able to do what and where in the Boulder-White Clouds.
And after that agreement was reached, the next thing you saw was Representative Simpson introduce the SNRA Plus Bill, which was back to wilderness, where, essentially, mountain bikers would be shut out, with some exceptions, drawing some lines in and preserving some of the rides, but eliminating some of the more classic backcountry rides that possibly could have been preserved with the monument.
I think that shows the strength of the motorized lobby, as opposed to the fractured mountain-biking lobby. Because you have some mountain bikers who say, well, I think there should be no bikes in wilderness. And you have another subset of mountain bikers who say, well, wait a minute, we've been riding these trails for 30 years, and we don't think they should be closed. And these are some of the epic trails in, not just the country, but the West, but some of them in the world.
The motorized lobby is pretty impressive when it comes to being organized.
Yeah, it's the nature of recreation. The snowmobilers, four-wheelers, motorcyclists are going to be usually in larger groups; whereas, you know, mountain bikers are probably in smaller groups, and cross-country skiers are going to be in smaller groups. It's just the nature of the sport. And I think it still goes back to the motorized groups present the united front. And you don't have that with the human-power recreation groups, where you have an inherent conflict between the groups.
Disappointing, but in some sense, not surprising. I think wilderness all along was the goal. I mean, CIEDRA was around for years and years and never really went anywhere. And I think at the end of the day, as Representative Simpson said, they didn't really need the mountain bikers. You know, when it came down to brass tacks, the motorized lobby and the non-biking conservation community said, you know, we got what we wanted, and let's move forward. But the ability to pass a bill in Congress in six months' time is - that's the part that was very surprising!
It seems there’s a new wrinkle now.
Well, for years and years there was the conflict within the mountain-biking community, where you had some organizations say, well, we agree with the ban in wilderness. And you had other individuals saying, well, wait a minute, that was never the intent of the Wilderness Act, to shut out all human-powered recreation, or at least some human-powered recreation. I mean, mountain-biking wasn't around in the '60s.
And so what has happened is those individuals have come together and formed their own new organization -- the Sustainable Trails Coalition -- whose entire intent is giving local officials, local land managers, the ability to say, we think mountain bikes should be allowed here and not here, which is, to me, the best solution to this issue.
The Sustainable Trails Coalition is the group who's behind the new legislation that has been introduced by Senator Lee and Senator Hatch of Utah in Congress that would give local officials control over the determination whether or not mountain-biking is allowed.
Trails aren't being maintained. We don't have the resources at the government level to clear more than 25 percent of the trails, so what do we do? And this bill is a great response to that.
You get four guys on fat bikes with trailers and a couple of chainsaws in the back, and you can clear miles and miles of trail that aren't being cleared now. And it clears for everybody. It clears for the horseback riders, it clears for the hikers, the backpackers, and it clears for mountain bikers, if the first part of the bill is included. So, what a great solution.
It might also bring young people into the mix.
Right. You know, young people are more distracted these days with other issues. And how do you bring in new members? And you can't marginalize one group - that's the human-powered recreation group - that is going to eclipse, in terms of numbers, backpackers and hikers in the next five to ten years. And if you continue to have those groups at odds with the non-mountainbiking groups, how do you grow the amount of people behind pro wilderness and pro land protection? You just can't do it.
The conservation community has to have a big tent. You can't shut certain groups out, non-motorized groups, human-powered recreation groups, who are a natural fit in the conservation community, and mountain bikers are a natural fit. And 96 percent of mountain bikers have said we would like some trails in wilderness opened up to mountain biking. 96 percent, that's a big group. When you've got 8 million mountain bikers in the United States, think about how many people that is who could get behind opening up or, you know, having new wilderness areas, not just in Idaho, but throughout the country.
When you analyze the Wilderness Act, what do you see?
Proper analysis of the Wilderness Act is that there are two primary purposes. There's not one over the other. It's not land conservation is more important than human-powered recreation, or vice versa. They are co-equal partners and co-equal reasons for the Wilderness Act.
You have one group saying, well, no, it's purely for land preservation and ignoring one other very important and co-equal reason for the Wilderness Act. And why it was passed was to encourage people to get out in the wilderness and enjoy it on human-powered means, and that includes bikes.
I have to admit, I was extremely surprised that Senate bill 3205 was even introduced. I never thought that you would actually see federal legislation that would overturn the administrative decision to ban mountain bikes. Will it go anywhere? And that's the question. You know, SNRA Plus was passed in six months. Can you have a bipartisan agreement that this is something you should do?
And the way I look at it is, especially our congressional delegation, they're all about local control. They don't want things controlled in Washington, DC; they want local control. And that's what this bill does, is it allows the local land managers in conjunction with all human-powered recreationalists to decide where bikes should be allowed.