- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Environmentalists and mountain bikers have reached agreement on a proposal for protecting the Boulder-White Clouds as a national monument.

The Idaho Statesman (http://bit.ly/1qtfmdF ) reported Tuesday that the agreement creates zones to maintain wilderness characteristics in some areas, while continuing mountain-bike access to the popular area north of Sun Valley.

The Idaho Conservation League, Wood River Bicycle Coalition, International Mountain Bicycling Association and The Wilderness Society worked for months on the proposal they will present to the Obama administration. They seek protection of the 500,000-acre area, which has no roads, managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

“The Boulder-White Clouds is a spectacular landscape, and it’s valued for many reasons,” said Brett Stevenson, executive director of the Wood River Bicycle Coalition in Hailey, in a joint news release.

“It warrants National Monument protection, and that protection can and should balance wilderness character with mountain biking and other forms of low-impact recreation that are compatible with conservation objectives,” Stevenson said.

The deal recommends a mix of wilderness-grade protections for important watersheds in high alpine lake basins and the peaks of the White Cloud Mountains, along with travel corridors that preserve mountain biking in places like Castle Divide and Ants Basin.

“The Boulder-White Clouds have extraordinary wilderness values and world-class recreational access,” said Rick Johnson, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League. “We are working together to protect both.”

The agreement is aimed at stopping further erosion of protections of the area over the past 40 years to keep it “in largely the same way and in the same condition that it is today,” the groups said.

The deal also ends a clash between preservationists and mountain bikers, a growing user of the backcountry.

“I have watched for a decade with both trepidation and great hope, as our collective communities navigated a challenging yet important task of finding common ground on how to manage this iconic landscape,” said Michael Van Abel, president of the International Mountain Bicycling Association.

The inclusion of The Wilderness Society, whose decades of lobbying have protected more than 100 million acres of wilderness in the United States, is significant.

Some local governments in the region, such as Lemhi County, oppose a national monument designation.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson has attempted to pass the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, which would have created three wilderness areas in the Boulder and White Cloud Mountains totaling 332,775 acres, while also releasing 130,000 acres from wilderness study area to multiple use. But those efforts have so far failed, so conservation groups are lobbying the Obama administration to establish a national monument.

A national monument designation preserves lands by adding protections from development, resource extraction and land swaps. Foes of creating a national monument in the Boulder-White Clouds cite diminished economic possibilities and restrictions on access.

Presidents have the sole authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to protect land under national-monument status.

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Information from: Idaho Statesman, http://www.idahostatesman.com