- Associated Press - Monday, November 28, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - A draft plan unveiled Monday for two recently created Idaho wilderness areas prohibits campfires at high elevations to protect whitebark pine and eliminates horses and other recreational stock in some areas to protect alpine soils.

The U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced the availability of the 67-page document intended to guide management of the 138-square-mile Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness and the 142-square-mile White Clouds Wilderness, both in central Idaho.

The agencies say the goal is to manage the areas for recreation and other activities while preserving wilderness character.

The ban on campfires above 9,000 feet with some exceptions is intended to protect whitebark pine as well as snags and downed trees at high altitudes where firewood is scarce and living trees become targets.

“We cannot lose whitebark pine,” said Forest Service spokeswoman Julie Thomas. “There are not that many of them (that) we can start using them for firewood.”

The ban on horses and other recreational stock applies only to a portion of the White Clouds Wilderness, in part to protect riparian areas.

Dani Mazzotta of the Idaho Conservation League said 60 volunteers over the summer documented high-use areas, trash removal and wildlife sightings. She said the information was turned over to the federal agencies but it’s not clear if it was included in the draft plan.

“We’ll be diving into the wilderness plan in the next couple weeks,” she said

President Barack Obama signed the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act in August 2015 after Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho got ranchers, recreationists and environmental groups to back the plan.

Simpson had been working on wilderness designation for 15 years, but some groups upset with the delay pushed Obama to designate a much larger area a national monument. That possibility is widely believed to have led to the wilderness bill passing despite opposition, particularly in rural Custer County where some of the wilderness area is located.

“A lot of people are upset with the fact that I didn’t call their bluff and see if they turned it into a monument,” said Custer County Commission Chairman Wayne Butts, noting he and the two other commissioners didn’t want to take that chance and signed on with Simpson’s bill.

He said that among the problems with the draft plan are negative comments about grazing cattle, a use specifically allowed as part of the compromise deal reached to create the wilderness areas.

The law also allows for the retirement of grazing allotments, and Thomas said one allotment has already been retired that overlapped a part of the White Clouds Wilderness.

The central Idaho wilderness areas created with Obama’s signature in 2015 also include the 183-square-mile Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness. Federal officials say the management plan for that area, which involves a different national forest and more BLM land, is being completed in a separate planning effort.

Public meetings to discuss the plan for Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness and White Clouds Wilderness are set for Dec. 5 in Challis, and Dec. 6 in Stanley and Ketchum.

Public comments are being taken through Jan. 5, with a final plan expected to be released in the spring.

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