Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said she will meet with communities in the coming weeks and months to evaluate opportunities to protect the nation’s “stories and landscapes.”
Jewell, speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, urged Congress to pass some of the dozen wilderness and land protection bills that have been held up since 2010. And she noted that President Barack Obama has used the Antiquities Act nine times to establish national monuments without congressional approval, such as the Rio Grande Del Norte in New Mexico and the San Juan Islands in Washington.
“If Congress doesn’t step up to act to protect some of these important places that have been identified by communities and people throughout the country, then the president will take action,” Jewell said in her first major speech since her appointment six months ago.
“We cannot and will not hold our breath forever.”
Jewell did not specifically address Idaho in her speech. But in May, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who is in charge of the Forest Service, said at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise — with Jewell standing at his side — that the Obama administration would work to evaluate the Boulder-White Clouds area as a possible national monument.
Republican Rep. Mike Simpson has spent more than a decade pushing his Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, which includes wilderness protection for more than 300,000 acres of the 760,000-acre Boulder-White Clouds roadless area, including the Jerry Peak area under Jewell’s jurisdiction.
Simpson’s proposal has not won the support of Congress or of Idaho Gov. Butch Otter.
Since May, the Outdoor Alliance, representing mountain bikers, climbers, paddlers, hikers and whitewater enthusiasts, and a new group, Sportsmen for the Boulder-White Clouds, have joined the Idaho Conservation League and the Wilderness Society as proponents of a monument designation.
“The Boulder-White Clouds has been part of national discussion in Congress for over a decade and would certainly be appropriate for consideration as a national monument,” said Rick Johnson, head of the ICL.
But the Sawtooth Society, a conservation group established to help the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, has expressed fears of “unintended consequences” if part of the recreation area is protected as a monument.
“Loving the area to death would put unacceptable pressure on precious natural and recreational resources,” said Paul Hill, president of the Sawtooth Society.
For more than 40 years, most of the area surrounding Stanley and points south to almost Sun Valley has been part of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
The SNRA was created as a political compromise in 1972, recognizing the region’s national significance and placing recreation, fish and wildlife protection above other uses. It also sought to protect the pastoral area’s ranching heritage.
A PROPER SHOWCASE? Observers for years have criticized the Forest Service for not showcasing the area: It is one unit in the larger Sawtooth National Forest and hasn’t had the money or the profile once envisioned for the area.
Advocates say the area should, like a national park, be recognized as a nationally significant scenic and recreational wonder — and get appropriate money, staffing and visitor amenities.
Backers like to compare it to Grand Teton National Park, which had a 2012 budget of $12.1 million. The SNRA budget was $2.8 million.
Elsewhere in Idaho, other groups are working on developing a proposal for a Caldera national monument around Mesa Falls adjacent to Yellowstone National Park.
On Thursday, Jewell also issued her first secretarial order calling for a department-wide climate change mitigation strategy. The order addresses adaptation, restoration and conservation of resources, along with permitting for new energy and infrastructure projects, on the 500 million acres of national parks, federal rangeland and wildlife refuges that her agency oversees.
Jewell also said she would create or enhance partnerships in 50 cities to create outdoor recreation opportunities for more than 10 million young people.
“It’s critical that we work to establish meaningful and deep connections between young people — from every background and every community — and the great outdoors,” Jewell said.