Wilderness on Back Burner Following Lawsuit Threatby Greg Stahl
Idaho Mountain Express, October 22, 2003
Simpson still interested in pushing forward
"The congressman has been working to build trust with the various groups,
and the notice of intent (to sue) has caused serious problems in that process."
Efforts to resolve land-use debates and to work toward potential wilderness designation in Central Idahoís Boulder and White Cloud mountains are on hold indefinitely because of unrelated and unresolved conflicts over water use in the Snake River.
"Frankly, itís kind of in a hold pattern right now," said Lindsay Slater, chief of staff for Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who has assumed the lead role on the potential wilderness designation of approximately 250,000 acres in the two mountain ranges.
In an interview last week, Slater said that when environmental groups, including the Idaho Conservation League, filed an intent to sue the Bureau of Reclamation over upper Snake River water use, repercussions rapidly spread to other issues the environmental groups were working on.
Wilderness designation had the biggest and clearest bullís eye.
"The ICLís participation in that (threatened lawsuit) caused, I would say, difficulties," Slater said.
"The congressman has been working to build trust with the various groups, and the notice of intent (to sue) has caused serious problems in that process," he continued. "We had hoped to introduce concepts in September so the public would get an idea of what could be in proposed legislation, and we would get feedback on the proposed concepts before we go with that legislation."
Idaho Wilderness negotiations fell in jeopardy in August when four environmental groups threatened to sue the Bureau of Reclamation and NOAA Fisheries over ailing runs of Snake River salmon.
In response to the threat of a lawsuit targeting fish, dams and water use in the Snake River, Idaho irrigation interests called on their resource allies to walk out of unrelated talks that could lead to additional wilderness protection for the Boulder and White Cloud mountains and the Owyhee canyon lands in Southwest Idaho.
But at the urging of U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, environmental and fish advocacy groups temporarily withdrew the threat of a lawsuit and agreed to sit down with Idaho water users for negotiations. Two full-scale meetings have taken place, as well as many smaller conferences, said ICL Executive Director Rick Johnson.
"So, weíve taken a stand-back approach to see what happens in those discussions," Slater said.
For his part, Johnson said the collaborative talks are a significant shift in strategy for the conservation community, a shift his group is willing to test.
"Crapo is forcing people to talk with each other who have never laid eyes on each other," Johnson said. "Thereís something very substantive going on. Weíre taking it very, very seriously."
As for the Boulder-White Clouds proposal, Johnson said efforts are ongoing. He also said ICL would continue to work on varying issues.
"The ICL works on an awful lot of issues," he said. "If my work on one issue is going to preclude my ability to work on another issue, I may as well wrap it up. If itís going to be distilled that coarsely, then the White Clouds arenít going to happen."
But 95 percent of the work is done, he said.
"The remaining 5 percent is really hard."
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