- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 2, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - National-monument designation for a rugged swath of central Idaho wouldn’t enhance environmental protections for the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and could hinder a long-sought goal of obtaining wilderness status, a conservation group says.

The Sawtooth Society in a statement on Monday said it opposes any overlap of a proposed national monument with the recreation area that already has significant legal protections from its creation in 1972.

“I don’t see where it would increase the protections,” Gary O’Malley, the society’s executive director, said Tuesday.

The group is in favor of holding out for a proposed plan called the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, or CIEDRA, a bill proposed by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho. It would create three wilderness areas totaling 332,775 acres while also releasing 130,000 acres from a wilderness study area to a multiple-use designation.

But that plan for years has failed to get through Congress. So some groups are asking President Barack Obama to use his executive power under the Antiquities Act to create a 592,000-acre national monument that includes the rugged Boulder and White Cloud mountains.

“We don’t believe this is the time to abandon efforts to enact the CIEDRA legislation, which would provide predictable and truly effective additional protection for the Boulder-White Clouds,” Paul Hill, president of the Sawtooth Society, said in a statement.

Of the national-monument proposal, 280,000 acres would overlap the 756,000-acre recreation area. The group said that 280,000 acres would be better off if portions attained wilderness designation, and the group is willing to wait for the political climate to change.

“I’ve been around public policy for 35 years,” O’Malley said. “What in one moment looks impossible can change very dramatically and often quickly.”

Groups in favor of a national-monument designation note that additional protections would be attained by about 312,000 acres to the east of the recreation area’s boundary. Most of that land is managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the federal Bureau of Land Management, with some state endowment land.

The 2.4-million member Sierra Club has said it would prefer a wilderness designation as outlined in CIEDRA, but it is lobbying for a national monument because new wilderness designations appear impossible in the current political climate.

During a visit to Idaho earlier this summer, the club’s executive director, Michael Brune, put the chances of a national-monument designation for the area at better than 50 percent.

The Idaho Conservation League, after working for about a decade with Simpson to create CIEDRA, is also in favor of a national monument.

“Sometimes you need to broaden your strategies,” said Rick Johnson, the league’s executive director. “We certainly supported the bill in the past, and we support it still. We just don’t see it happening.”

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