The following article appeared in the Idaho Mountain Express,
Ketchum, Idaho, June 1, 2005.
Land transfers draw more ire
Seattle group says CIEDRA land gifts should be 'roundly rejected'
By GREG STAHL
Idaho Mountain Express Staff Writer
When someone refers to proposed land giveaways in Congressman Mike
Simpson's recently released Central Idaho Economic Development and
Recreation Act as "land trades," Janine Blaeloch is quick to correct them.
"These are land gifts, land giveaways, land donations, but they are not
land trades," the Seattle-based public land watchdog said.
As director of the recently renamed Western Lands Project, Blaeloch keeps
an eye on federal land transactions on behalf of the American people who
She is alarmed by Simpson's proposal to give ownership of 2,000 to 3,000
acres of federal land to Custer and Blaine counties, as well as to the
cities of Stanley, Challis and Mackay. In addition to the land gifts,
Simpson's far-reaching bill would designate 300,011 acres of the Boulder
and White Cloud mountains as wilderness.
For hard-line conservationists, the land gifts are a real sticking point.
"As long as environmental groups go along with this quid pro quo, it's
going to be very difficult for us to get pure wilderness again," Blaeloch
said. "The wilderness aspect can really grease the skids for a lot of
"It's a chilling idea. I do think that it will move along much farther the
idea that federal land can be cashed out to help local interests."
But at a meeting of the environmental minds at Redfish Lake a week ago,
Idaho Conservation League Executive Director Rick Johnson pointed out that
Simpson's bill is as close as wilderness supporters have come to
protections for the Boulder and White Cloud mountains in 20 years.
"It's not a non-starter," he said. "We are, for the first time since Frank
Church was a senator, going to have a serious discussion on wilderness in
Idahoans are also going to have a serious discussion about giving away
publicly owned land.
Blaeloch said she does not like to use the word "precedent." She also
said, however, that the bill establishes a paradigm whereby rural economic
problems can be ameliorated by the disposal of federal land.
"If this idea takes hold, we are in a heap of trouble with federal lands,"
she said. "What you're going to have is every county commissioner in the
West lining up for their deal for the disposal of federal lands to boost
Simpson's bill does not fully explain many of the land gifts it proposes,
but Simpson's chief of staff, Lindsay Slater, said the land gifts would
range between 2,000 and 3,000 acres. The bill specifically refers to 76
acres of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in and around Stanley that
would be given to Stanley, as well as 86 acres on a bench above Stanley
that would be given to Custer County.
The Stanley-area land gifts have been a bone of contention for a coalition
of Sawtooth Valley residents who have said the land in question is
valuable wildlife habitat and provides valuable scenic corridors.
But Blaeloch is looking at a bigger picture.
"In this case, if you didn't have the wilderness, you would have the naked
giveaway of federal land," she said. "I can't imagine that Americans will
be happy to know the SNRA is being disassembled for this bill."
She and others have pointed out that $55 million has been spent on
conservation easements in the SNRA to protect the area's scenic and
Blaeloch said Simpson's bill is unique for several reasons. Recent
wilderness bills have triggered land trades and land sales, not land
gifts, she said.
"Unlike (other recent bills), proponents have not even attempted to claim
that the public at large will gain anything from the land transfers," she
wrote. "The conveyance of land out of the well-loved, long-established
Sawtooth National Recreation Area is particularly disturbing, suggesting
that public lands that are assumed to be inviolate and permanently
protected may be vulnerable to disposal."
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