Senate Subcommittee Hearing on Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness Bill

IMG_1365Last week a subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee had a hearing on Senator Risch’s (co-sponsored by Rep. Simpson) revised Wilderness proposal known as SNRA+. The Wood River Bike Coalition and IMBA were one of a few to testify during the hearing. Here is a shortened version of our testimony:

We applaud Senator Risch and Congressman Simpson for their work on this issue, so it is with some disappointment that we find ourselves in opposition to the proposed legislation. The Wood River Bike Coalition and IMBA support enhanced protection of the Boulder-White Clouds and Jerry Peak area. However, in this case, we do not believe Wilderness is the most appropriate solution.

The Boulder-White Clouds play a critical role between the Sun Valley Resort and the Sawtooth and Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness areas. It completes the full spectrum of the area’s draw, attracting recreationalists of all kinds, which is critical to our tourism based economy.

Biking contributed $33 million to our local economy in a single season. Closing these marquee trails to biking closes a crucial marketing element in the local economy. Our local businesses support protection coupled with continued bicycle access.

Many Americans live in urban settings with limited outdoor recreational experiences. Yet we are well aware of the transformative and beneficial effect of adventures in natural, rugged environments. These experiences provide rejuvenation, inspiration, and perspective; in short, they make us better people.

The trend away from active recreation is concerning; however, one bright spot is bikes. The Outdoor Industry Association reports bicycling is the top outdoor activity for youth. The growth of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, including the new Idaho League, demonstrates this trend in youth involvement. Backcountry mountain bike rides like Ants Basin, Castle Divide, Bowery, and West Pass develop determination, confidence, and ultimately an appreciation for the natural world and our place in it. These aspirational experiences are invaluable and irreplaceable and should be encouraged, not taken away.

Select backcountry mountain biking trails in The Boulder-White Clouds and Jerry Peak area are vastly unique from frontcountry or urban biking experiences. Riding here is the only big, backcountry experience opportunity for mountain bikers in the entire region. It truly is like nothing else.

We appreciate primitive-use only experiences in the nearby Sawtooth and Frank Church Wilderness areas. Trails impact from horses, pack trains, and backpackers are similar to, and can even be greater than, those of bicyclists. So while this bill has accommodated motorized vehicles, heli-skiing, and snowmobiles, no consideration has been given to the continued use of marquee trails that our community cares so deeply about. A Wilderness designation eliminates the only backcountry bike experience in the area and tells mountain bikers and local businesses that the Idaho delegation does not consider bicycle experiences and their contribution to the economy  worth protecting.

This bill does not feel like an Idaho solution; it is not reflective of what our community wants. For the most part, we want this special place to stay just how it is today. In order to achieve that, some added level of protection or designation may be necessary, but it should be a designation that preserves the ecological value and recreational value, particularly when they are not mutually exclusive.

The Wilderness Act is a good tool for the protection of landscapes, habitat, and natural splendor. However, it is one tool in the legislative toolbox. In this case, we must ask ourselves: what is the objective of a new designation and is this bill achieving those goals, or is it simply a feather in someone’s hat?

Many solutions can be crafted using existing policy. Using a one-size-fits all approach at the cost of valued, low-impact recreational opportunities is a disservice to our community and future generations.

The Wood River Bike Coalition and IMBA welcome the opportunity to join other stakeholders and the Idaho delegation to protect these treasured landscapes and the recreation experiences they provide. We ask the committee to send this bill back to the delegation for further discussion and collaboration.

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