Looking Back At 50 Years Of Work To Protect The Boulder-White Cloud Mountains

Nov 10, 2015

Back on August 7th, President Obama signed a bill that turned 275,000 acres of the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains into wilderness.

The law creates three wilderness areas in Blaine and Custer counties. Conservationists like Craig Gehrke, director of the Idaho office of the Wilderness Society, says the wilderness designation was a long time coming.

It took decades of work by lawmakers like Senator Frank Church and Congressman Mike Simpson, and hundreds of conservationists who all tried again and again to protect the mountains from development.

Gehrke has studied the process that led to this year's designation and will offer a presentation on that history Tuesday in Boise.

He says the Boulder-White Clouds came to prominence in the late 1960’s when an open pit mine was proposed at the base of Castle Peak.

“Before then, most of the attention had focused on their neighbors to the West, which was the Sawtooth range,” says Gehrke. “The White Clouds never really got addressed [before then]. You can’t really see the White Clouds as well as you can the Sawtooths, you can’t see them from a major road, so they were kind of hidden.”

Credit Craig Gehrke / The Wilderness Society

The mountains were known to hunters, hikers and fishermen. The mountains became better known when people learned about the mine, and pushed to stop it.

For decades after that, legislation was proposed on and off. But Gehrke says it wasn’t until Congressman Mike Simpson took on the challenge of protecting the White Clouds that a turning point was reached. Eventually, this year, the wilderness bill was approved by Congress.

Gehrke says the area is special to all walks of life.

“The White Clouds are just spectacular. You’ve got dozens of peaks over 10,000 feet, you’ve got hundreds of alpine lakes, you’ve got all of the iconic game species in that neck of the woods, just kind of a collection of values that people really care about.”

Gehrke will go deeper into the history of the Boulder-White Cloud mountains at a presentation Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Idaho Outdoor Association Hall in Boise.

Find Samantha Wright on Twitter @samwrightradio

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