Land Issues Front And Center In The West

Three different stories about what’s going on

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We’ve received three different stories in the past couple of days about land issues in the West, more specifically in Idaho.

They all seem to focus on national monuments and the creation of one or more. The first story comes from the Twin Falls Times-News about the Boulder-White Clouds. Some people think because we haven’t heard anything about it for a while, that issue has gone away. Not hardly.

The second story is an opinion piece from the House Natural Resources Committee about creating national monuments and involving the local community in that process.

And the third about a Facebook page that has been created to oppose a proposed national monument in Island Park, ID. Many probably haven’t even heard about that one.

National Report Pushes Obama, Congress To Act On Boulder-White Clouds


Twin Falls Times-News

Twin Falls, Idaho - Hoping to prod Congress into action, a Washington, D.C., think tank has released a report on 10 stalled land conservation bills, including one to designate the Boulder-White Clouds area as wilderness.

U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, introduced legislation six times to set aside 332,775 acres of the land as wilderness. His bill is among those in “Languishing Lands,” the report published by the Center for American Progress (CAP), an independent non-partisan educational institute.

The report does not mention conservationists’ recent efforts to sidestep Simpson’s work and have the land designated as a national monument. But it does point out Simpson’s longstanding effort to “permanently protect the impressive beauty and abundant wildlife” there.

The report comes on the heels of President Obama’s signing last week of legislation that designated 32,557 acres of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan as wilderness. That was the first congressional designation under the Wilderness Act since 2009. Also last week, the president ordered expansion of the California Coastal National Monument to include 1,665 acres of Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands.

Where he can, Obama has pledged to protect “this incredible gift of American lands” with or without Congress.

His administration is looking closely at the 571,276-acre Boulder-White Clouds and the nearly 500,000-acre Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region near Las Cruces, NM, the Washington Post has reported. Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks also is mentioned in the new report.

The report calls Congress’ inattention to land bills such as Simpson’s the “longest conservation drought since World War II.” It says legislation to protect the 10 locations has been introduced “a combined 52 times over the past 30 years.“

Representatives from Simpson’s office could not be reached Monday for comment on his long-ignored Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA).

“There is a widening gap between American families who want more parks and open spaces to get outdoors and a Congress that has slashed conservation budgets, shuttered parks, and blocked nearly every community-led effort to protect lands for future generations,” CAP senior fellow Matt Lee-Ashley said in a news release. “With Congress so broken, the president is rightly stepping up to help conserve the places that matter most to our landscape, our history, and our culture.”

Obama can designate the Boulder-White Clouds as a national monument under the Antiquities Act at any time, but those pushing for the monument have said the president wouldn’t do so without meeting locally first.

The Stanley City Council is preparing to mail invitations to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to have such a meeting on or around June 12.

Stanley Mayor Herb Mumford said the council neither supports nor opposes a monument designation. It simply wants to know more about the proposal and gauge the administration’s interest.

“I’ve heard some rumblings here and there that they are planning to come, but I haven’t spoken directly with Sally,” Mumford said.

Times-News’ calls to the Department of the Interior’s press office were not returned. In Boise last week, Jewell told the Idaho Statesman that she and others would be “happy” to meet with local communities.

Mumford said the council is interested in “how far they are willing to commit” on the monument idea.

“This whole process of declaring a monument is as loose as it can be,” he said. “There are no commitments up front—it just happens from one day to the next, and after it is done there are a bunch of people supposed to get things squared away and come up with management plans. Well, that’s one hell of a gamble in our case, and that’s why we’ve said we are neither for it or against it.”

Custer County commissioners oppose the idea. Blaine County commissioners support it.

Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen recently took his commission’s letter of support for the monument to Washington, D.C., during a trip to the National Association of Counties annual conference.

Schoen said he told federal officials he would work with locals and Custer County to “develop an expression” of what’s supported for the monument and what’s not.”

Federal officials are willing to come to Idaho and hear from communities in one or more meetings, but Jewell and Vilsack may not show up initially, he said. Perhaps the administration first sends advisors and analysts, he said.

“The federal government is definitely interested. Whether they have increased their level of interest, I can’t say. I just think we’re moving along in time and more attention is being devoted to Boulder-White Clouds because it’s an area of interest and importance.”


Second Story

Op-Ed: Give The American People A Voice In The National Monument Process

Reps. Rob Bishop (UT-01) and Steve Daines (MT-At Large)

The Antiquities Act was established in 1906 as a way for the president to single-handedly create new national monuments. The law provides the president with the express authority to proclaim “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” as national monuments, “the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

Today, the new era of national monuments consist of vast swaths of vacant federal land, not specific structures or landmarks.

The Antiquities Act followed on the heels of Westward Expansion, which brought looting and vandalism upon antiquities found on public land throughout newer states and former territories. The environmental laws and protections we have today, such as the National Historic Preservation Act, were not yet in existence, and the president needed a way to expeditiously protect federal lands under imminent threat. The very first national monument was established just three months after the law was enacted. President Theodore Roosevelt designated 1,152 acres in Wyoming as the Devils Tower National Monument. In the 108 years since, the law has been used a total of 137 times by 15 presidents.

While the intended purpose of the Antiquities Act is to protect artifacts of cultural and historic significance, it has been used over the past 108 years as a political arrow in the quiver of many presidents. The act has allowed both Democratic and Republican presidents to work outside of the transparent public process that all other individuals and federal agencies must follow. This is one of the law’s major flaws.

We don’t disagree that many of the spaces and places protected over the last century are worthy of national monument designations. However, not all of these designations were made with public involvement or widespread local support. Federal designations have too great of an impact on local communities for them to be made without the involvement of those closest to the ground. If the proposed designation has widespread support at the local level, presidents shouldn’t have a problem moving the designation through a public process.

In Congress, our committees and subcommittees hear from expert witnesses and local officials as part of legislative review. If the committee review process is positive, bills are more likely to move through the system. If committee reviews go badly, bills are rightfully stalled until the sticking points are addressed. Presidents are not subjected to these same checks and balances when it comes to the Antiquities Act. They are not required to engage the public throughout the process.

Like Congress, the president ought to formally be required to consider the input of local communities and states prior to declaring new national monuments. The inequity of unilateral action lends itself to heavy political influence and pressure from special interests. This is why we are supporting the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act, which would require the application of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) to future national monument designations.

Though NEPA is another law largely in need of reform, public participation is at the core of its process, and by making this a requirement of future monument declarations we can ensure that those on the ground have a say in the process. The American people deserve to have input on new policies and laws that will affect their communities and livelihoods. The legislation importantly gives everyone a voice in the process, not just those who happen to have the ear of the president.


Third Story

Citizen Action Against Island Park Caldera National Monument Idaho Advocacy Is On Facebook

Here is the link: Citizen Action Against Island Park Caldera National Monument Idaho Advocacy

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