- Associated Press - Friday, January 23, 2015

KETCHUM, Idaho (AP) - Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson is working on a scaled-down plan to create a central Idaho wilderness as groups dismayed with his lack of success on previous efforts attempt to persuade President Barack Obama to designate a national monument.

Simpson earlier this month showed the plan to central Idaho elected officials in Blaine and Custer counties.

“Congressman Simpson would rather have an Idaho solution than have the Obama administration impose a solution,” Nikki Wallace, Simpson’s communications director, told the Idaho Mountain Express (https://bit.ly/1AZXclR ) in a story on Friday.

In its earlier version, Simpson’s Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act would create three wilderness areas totaling 332,775 acres while 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, in part because other Idaho congressmen don’t support it and Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has refused to back it.

The most recent version would leave the Sawtooth National Recreation Area intact and create three separate wilderness areas around it. It would contain about 295,000 acres of wilderness, about 37,000 acres less than the earlier version.

Opposition from Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, is generally believed to have thwarted earlier wilderness designation efforts, and it’s unclear if he would support the new version. Suzanne Wrasse, his spokeswoman, said Risch is working with Simpson to create a collaborative process to produce an alternative bill.

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, has supported Simpson’s plan in the past, but hasn’t yet seen details of the new plan.

“We’re looking forward to seeing what he introduces,” spokesman Lindsay Nothern said.

Meanwhile, some groups are asking 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.

Lt. Gov. Brad Little opposes that option, and advised against a national monument when greeting Obama at Gowen Field Air National Guard Base when the president visited Boise on Wednesday.

The Idaho Conservation League and other groups, though, are pushing for a national monument. Director Rick Johnson said he’s encouraged by Simpson’s continued effort but doubts the Republican-controlled Congress will pass a wilderness bill.

“We’re working on a monument because (a wilderness bill) has failed, and I don’t see it succeeding now,” Johnson said. “If the bill makes progress in Congress, we’ll certainly be part of the game.”


Information from: Idaho Mountain Express, https://www.mtexpress.com

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