By Michael Gibson
Thanks to the generous support of EcoFlight, I recently took a bird’s-eye tour of the proposed Boulder-White Clouds National Monument.
Our flight departed from the Hailey Airport in the early morning hours of a beautiful central Idaho summer day. The weather pattern had cleared the hazy skies of seasonal smoke and we could literally see for miles. We climbed to altitude up the Wood River Valley, left behind the familiar sites of the Sun Valley ski area, and headed north.
As we ascended over the first ridge of the Boulder Mountains, a glorious view of the proposed National Monument lay before us, an endless sea of 10,000-foot peaks dotted with emerald lakes. Unthawed snowfields still marked the high-country from last winter. A maze of migration corridors linked the hearty, high-altitude big game summer habitat to the winter range on the eastern horizon.
Andy Munter, owner of Backwoods Mountain Sports in Ketchum, a monument business supporter, has spent a lifetime in the Boulder-White Clouds and knows the country intimately. Through the cockpit PA system, he pointed out landmarks and told stories about adventures past. Hiking this majestic peak, skiing that pristine chute, Andy’s commentary gave context to why folks are so passionate about protecting this area.
As we approached Castle Peak, I imagined what it would look like with blocks of earth stripped from its surface, an empty and permanent scar of an open pit molybdenum mine, and thanked former Gov. Cecil Andrus and the forward-thinking conservationists that laid the ground work for protecting this area in the early 1970s.
Protections for this unbroken landscape are not complete. The Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA) has served us well for 40 years; this landmark legislation averted the initial mining threat near Castle Peak. However, numerous mining claims rest outside of SNRA jurisdiction. Other threats to the Boulder-White Clouds are unchecked motorized use and the risk of public land transfers leaving the area exposed to the danger of private buy up. Preservation is also needed for the Jerry Peak Roadless area and the East Fork Salmon River; this drainage hosts migrations of endangered salmon and steelhead and boasts the highest altitude spawning habitat for these species found anywhere in the world.
A tour over the Boulder-White Clouds made it clear that securing this landscape as part of wild Idaho is an imperative. A monument proclamation gives us the tools for permanent safeguards, while still allowing access and enjoyment for multiple stakeholders.
As we circled Castle Peak and headed for home, I thought about a question that is often asked: “Why do we need to protect the Boulder-White Clouds?” After a flight like this I would say, “Go see it for yourself — from the air, from a trail, or from a high peak in the Boulder-White Clouds, and the answer will be obvious.”
Michael Gibson is Executive Director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation and Outreach Coordinator for Sportsmen for Boulder-White Clouds.