Lewiston Morning Tribune Op-ed

Posted on Tuesday, May 31st, 2016 by »

Risch should keep pledge he made last year

Marty Trillhaase | Tuesday, May 31, 2016

When he chooses to be, Idaho Sen. Jim Risch can be a remarkably avid environmentalist.

After all, it was Risch – during his brief run as Idaho governor in 2008 – who brought stakeholders to the table and crafted the Idaho Roadless Rule – a plan written by Idahoans for Idahoans about how to manage Idaho’s 9.2 million acres of roadless forests. While much of the country remained mired in conflict, Idaho – thanks to Risch’s collaborative approach – operated with the blessing of the federal courts.

Last year, Risch lent his indispensable support to Congressman Mike Simpson’s 15-year quest to protect Idaho’s Boulder-White Cloud range. A member of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, Risch got an identical version of Simpson’s bill – providing for 275,000 acres split among three wilderness areas – onto the Senate floor in time to beat a looming deadline. By persuading Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to drop his “hold” on the measure, Risch secured unanimous support – putting the bill on President Barack Obama’s desk.

It marked the first time a stand-alone Idaho wilderness bill had been signed into law since 1980 when the late Sen. Frank Church passed the River of No Return wilderness.

Now Risch has the chance to act again to craft a new wilderness in northern Idaho’s Scotchman Peaks.

But unlike recent Idaho wilderness efforts – such as Sen. Mike Crapo’s Owyhee Canyonlands and even Simpson’s Boulder-White Clouds – there is no federal gun pointed at anyone’s head. Nobody is suggesting that Obama issue a proclamation creating a national monument in the area straddling the Idaho-Montana border near Sandpoint.

In other words, if Idaho’s congressional delegation does not act, the area will remain managed as de-facto wilderness. But special places don’t protect themselves. If Idahoans don’t act – as they did with the Hells Canyon, the Sawtooths or the Boulder-White Clouds – these areas can be threatened. There’s always the chance that the evolution of off-road motorized technology that will create conflict in the otherwise pristine area.

Fortunately, you have a genuine grass-roots campaign to protect the area. Among the coalition supporting wilderness protection for the estimated 14,000 acres are the Bonner County Commission and Idaho Forest Products Group Chairman Marc Brinkmeyer.

Even Risch highlighted the idea when his committee took up the Boulder-White Clouds bill last year:

“For those of you who are interested in looking to the future, here in the audience today, we have people representing the Scotchman Peaks area of north Idaho. Another, probably the next, candidate in Idaho. It may be in my fourth or fifth term in this job. I don’t know. I hope you don’t have to wait that long. But there is no doubt that there will be movement.

“And they are. I wanted to compliment them right now. They have seen and picked up on the collaborative method by which these public lands issues have been resolved in Idaho. They have been moving forward in that regard. They are making substantial progress and, indeed, they have an impressive list of people who are supporting that work in that regard.

“And so, this committee will, in all likelihood, in the future be seeing them.”

That was a year ago. Meanwhile, time is running short as Congress keeps its eye on the election campaign calendar.

If Risch intends to make good on his works, he needs to have a Scotchman Peaks wilderness measure ready for inclusion in any public lands omnibus bill that emerges.

Why wait any longer? – M.T.

About The Author:

Britta Mireley is a transplant to North Idaho via South Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado. She keeps busy being a new mom, working on her "fixer-upper," and getting fresh air whenever possible!

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