The end game on the future of the Boulder-White Clouds and additional wilderness protection is starting. Cross your fingers that the right changes can occur, and though he owes Idaho absolutely nothing, President Barack Obama will declare as a new national monument an area almost double the size of the carefully negotiated bill engineered over ten years by Rep. Mike Simpson.
It will serve right folks like ATV’er lobbyist Sandra Mitchell and the double-crossing Senator Jim Risch to have all their shenanigans, delays and obstructionism result in something from their view point twice as bad as before.
Governor Andrus has an old saying: “Pigs get fat but hogs get slaughtered:.” That fits Mitchell, Risch and the narrow interests they represent to a tee Not satisified with all the concessions Congressman Simpson and the Idaho Conservation League were willing to give to get a carefully negotiated bill, a couple years back, they blew it up and walked away.
Now they are supposedly back at the table with a bill supposedly written by Senator Risch’s staff (Would you like to wager whether a working draft as a “courtesy” was provided by Ms. Mitchell?) and Senator Risch will hold a hearing on May 21st. The House will follow with a hearing in June. Reportedly, Rep. Simpson received a six month commitment from the White House not to invoke the Antiquities Act and see if he can get a revised form of his old bill (With less acreage protected) through the House.
Some would like to believe this is Idaho’s last best chance to get Congress to act responsibly. Others are hoping for the National Monument designation, believing, as it did in Alaska, it will result in the delegation making reasonable compromises to undo the more restrictive monument designation. Still a third group would be perfectly satisfied with just leaving the Monument designation in place.
I suspect this is the issue that Senator Risch will drill down on when ICL Executive Director Rick Johnson appears before Risch’s committee on the 21st. All things being equal, would Johnson and the ICL prefer the Monument designation be imposed on their fellow Idahoans or would they take less for a more democratic bill? Rest assured Risch will try to put Johnson on the spot, for truth be told this is just a “show” hearing. I doubt very much that Risch wants any bill that would add one more acre to Idaho’s wilderness.
For Risch its just a game of “gotcha.” He firmly believes a majority of Idahoans feel there already is enough wilderness in the state and like things just as they are. He also knows that by holding his hearing in D.C. only the well-to-do will be able to pay for the travel and take the time to come testify. He’s not about to hold a hearing in the home state areas near the Boulder-White Clouds because he is well aware that former Interior Secretary Andrus promised current Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that if she wanted him to turn out a crowd at an in-state hearing he’d have 500 people there if she gave him a week’s notice.
Both ICL’s Johnson and Andrus appear to have concluded that despite the incredible effort put in by Simpson and staff, and they do genuinely admire their effort, there will never be an acceptable bill that comes out of the Senate or out of a joint conference committee.
So 50 Andrus cohorts, as well as a slew of the late Senator Frank Church’s cohorts have written the President asking him to invoke his powers under the Antiquities Act. In a perfect political world one would not write such letters unless there was some reasonable assurance of a positive response. This is not the case, though. The White House has not given either Johnson or Andrus any assurances to the best of anyone’s knowledge.
That is unsettling to say the least but should not surprise. Why should the President do anything for Idaho?
Consider also the lack of any state-wide public clamor. Neither letter or press release on the former Andrus and Church staffers writing the president was deemed news worthy enough to be put on the Associated Press’ wire.
I can guarantee you one thing, if the public is not demanding action we’ll be living with the status quo for many more years.