Underwriting provided by:
John Freemuth Interview
John Freemuth is a political scientist at Boise State University. He has written several books on public lands issues. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.
Didn't the National Park Service come up with a plan for managing the Sawtooth area?
So both the Park Service and the Forest Service were vying for this land?
"So, what is a national recreation area? There is no template. There is sort of, I think, political solutions to difficult issues."Now that doesn't diminish Bob Marshal and all the philosophers of wilderness, right? But they picked areas because they were losing land to the Park Service. What do you think the national parks would come from after the creation of the Forest Service? Before then, there were parks and no Forest Service. They were the first agency, but there were parks before there were forests. They don't want to lose the Sawtooths to the Park Service. That's why you get the recreation area concept that comes later, but back then it was primitive areas.
Hunting seemed to swing the debate to the Forest Service side.
Forty years ago, how unusual was this concept of a national recreation area, managed by the Forest Service?
Can you make the case that the Sawtooths could be better handled by the Park Service?
Would you get more development? I'm not so sure anymore that you would look at something like Grand Teton as the reference point. You might want to look at Great Basin. If you look at Great Basin, there is no development at Great Basin. That's probably where the Park Service has gone now. But would it bring in more people? Unquestionably, because you put the label national park, and people would come. And some people would think that's too many people.
One of the arguments is the money issue. Might there be more money for things if it were a national park?
This is a national recreation area. Now, it's subsumed in the Sawtooth National Forest. The National Park Service does nothing like that, alright? And these two in Idaho are pretty unique — the Hells Canyon and the Sawtooth — in terms of clearly being world class areas. So you'll get the criticism, it's a crown jewel. Distinguish it. Have the Sawtooth Recreation Area supervisor, equivalent to a forest supervisor. Why can't you do that? Maybe internally they feel, well, it will get special attention. Well, okay, the agency already rhetorically gives it special attention, right? And it is odd, when you think about it, you've got these areas that Congress has already said are different from the national forest. They have their own enabling legislation, and they've got different sets of purposes. It is kind of confusing to people, and I think it is a cultural issue within the Forest Service.
Retired ranger Tom Kovalicky argues that they need to treat the Sawtooth NRA differently from other forest districts.
Interestingly, there is a growing 'turn Hells Canyon into a park' movement again. In Oregon there is some frustration again with whatever the Forest Service is doing in Hells Canyon. Well, guys, that one has come back more than once, just like this has. I'm not saying it is justified, but there is something going on; and I'll tell ya, Rule Number One still is: if you want to get more attention from the Forest Service for this area, threaten them with a national park, and they will do something about it!
I'd submit to you that the competition between the Park Service and the Forest Service gave us this NRA, alright? And I think the people who sponsored that ought to be proud of at least what their vision was - Cecil Andrus, Frank Church, Jim McClure.
And while we're talking about McClure, there are a number of people who think there's a mountain here named Mount Heyburn that really ought to be named Mount McClure. After all, Senator Heyburn was not a fan of the public lands. He hated the Forest Service. Jim McClure — some environmentalists may not like me to say this — Jim McClure had a lot to do with this Sawtooth NRA; and Jim has passed away now. What a nice honor to have a mountain named after a guy who helped create the place and fought for it. Mount McClure. Wonder if it will happen someday?