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Idaho Wilderness Act May Trigger 2017 Protections

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An Idaho bill introduced last week will likely be among the first wilderness acts facing the 115th Congress.

Photo Credit: Julie Kallemeyn

Cover photo: Jim Mellen

Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) introduced the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness Act on Dec. 8th, just before the 114th Congress adjourned for the final time.

The act would protect nearly 14,000 acres of backcountry wilderness in Idaho, a popular spot for hiking, camping, and skiing. It’s also home to rare wildlife like the Canadian lynx, mountain goats, and moose.

More than its beauty, though, the pending wilderness designation may serve as a bellwether of similar acts to come.

“This bill should be a no-brainer for [the incoming Congress],” Craig Gehrke, Idaho state director for The Wilderness Society, told us. “If Congress can’t act on something this straightforward it doesn’t bode well for future conservation attempts.”

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With President-elect Donald Trump’s recent cabinet appointments, environmentalists and wilderness advocates have become concerned.

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Trump’s current cabinet consists of a who’s who of oil executives and climate change deniers. His selection this week for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon-Mobile, is just the latest example of an administration looks poised to favor extraction industries over preservation.

Still, Gehrke expects the bill to pass

“It has everything going for it,” he told us. “It’s got full public support and a republican introduced it. It should show that wilderness can be bi-partisan, or really non-partisan.”

The bill, if passed, would protect land along a rugged range of mountains on the Idaho/Montana border from motorized vehicle traffic, preserving it for backcountry activities. Gehrke told us the bill would cost nothing.


According to him, the bill will have to be reintroduced in Congress in January when the new House and Senate convene. With cabinet appointments and confirmations, he expects it could be March before the bill, and 14,000 acres of Idaho wilderness, receives its fate.

That’s when we, and millions of others who love the outdoors, will know whether this new administration will abide by public support and bi-partisanship for the environment.

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