- Associated Press - Thursday, July 17, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - The chances of a national monument being designated in central Idaho are better than 50 percent, the executive director of the 2.4-million-member Sierra Club says.

“Well north of 50-50,” said Michael Brune on a stop in Boise on Thursday before heading to the proposed monument area for a camping trip. “I’d say it’s likely, but clearly not yet settled.”

Brune said he’s met with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to discuss a 592,000-acre national monument in the rugged Boulder and White Cloud mountains, and that tens of thousands of club members are working for monument designation.

The group had a similar game plan leading up to the designation in May of a national monument in southern New Mexico. President Obama vowed during the signing ceremony for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument to make more proclamations using his executive power under the Antiquities Act to protect federal lands.

Brune, who attended the signing ceremony in Washington, D.C., said Obama’s statement that he wasn’t done creating national monuments drew loud applause.

“Internally, we’ve been meeting with the Department of the Interior, Council on Environmental Quality, and members of the president’s senior staff inside the White House to talk about being ambitious in to declare these new national monuments,” Brune said. “If we’re not able to get strong legislation passed, then it’s his responsibility to use his executive authority.”

The Sierra Club would rather see a wilderness designation go through Congress, he said, and the group supported the latest version by Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson’s bill that would have done that.

The plan, hammered out with the approval of a range of groups, would have created three wilderness areas totaling 332,775 acres, while also releasing 130,000 acres from wilderness study area to a multiple-use designation.

But those efforts have failed, in part because other Idaho congressmen don’t support the plan, and Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has refused to back it. Otter spokesman Jon Hanian said Otter’s position remains unchanged.

A message left with Simpson’s spokeswoman on Thursday by The Associated Press wasn’t returned.

“In light of the fact that wilderness is not happening, we think that the national monument protection is the next best step,” said Zach Waterman, director of the Sierra Club’s Idaho chapter.

Various groups have been weighing in about a potential national monument.

A group in Custer County formed earlier this year to oppose the designation, citing diminished economic possibilities and restrictions on access. Custer County commissioners also oppose a designation.

But commissioners in Blaine County, where Ketchum is located, back the monument idea. The proposed national monument is in Blaine and Custer counties, and much of it is scenic, remote and rugged.

The Ketchum City Council and the Idaho Conservation League and Wilderness Society also support a national monument designation. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission is opposed.

Brune said the process the Sierra Club uses in trying to get a monument designation involves understanding what the community supports and then involving its members and, finally, using its contacts with elected leaders.

“We’re meeting with the administration and will continue to do so,” Brune said. “We have connections and a legacy of land protection that is unparalleled. That’s what we bring.”

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