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Idaho wilderness bill passes US House

A compromise bill put forward by Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho to create a protected wilderness area in central Idaho has passed the U.S. House of Representatives.

The wilderness plan, which now heads to the U.S. Senate, would protect about 300,000 acres in three different areas in the rugged Boulder and White Cloud mountains.

“I don’t think there are really any big objections in the Senate, so it should pass with ease,” Simpson told the Post Register. “The problem is the procedures in the Senate to actually get it to a vote. We’re working on that. It’s procedural more than anything else.”

Simpson’s bill would create three new wilderness areas, the Idaho Statesman reports. They are the 138-square-mile Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness, the 142-square-mile White Clouds Wilderness and the 183-square-mile Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness.

“Congressman Simpson’s leadership on protecting the Boulder-White Clouds is something sorely needed in Washington right now and we commend his ability to move this bill cleanly through the process,” Craig Gehrke, Idaho director with The Wilderness Society, said in a statement. “It’s now up to the U.S. Senate to demonstrate that it can finally resolve this decades-long debate.”

A previous plan by Simpson to designate a wilderness in the area has failed for years. Groups dismayed with the lack of results are asking President Barack Obama to use his executive power under the Antiquities Act to create a 592,000-acre national monument instead.

Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club’s Lands Protection Program, in a statement said passage of Simpson’s bill in the House was a testament to Simpson’s years of hard work pulling together a coalition of wilderness advocates.

“However, if the Senate fails to act this week, the Sierra Club will be forced to support the use of the Antiquities Act by President Obama to protect this region,” Manuel said.

Custer County Commission Chairman Wayne Butts is an opponent of wilderness protections in the area, contending an influx of visitors would cost the county money and might disrupt the way of life for locals.

“For those of you who don’t feel like stepping in a cow turd — this is our way of life,” he said. “I don’t feel bad for you even a little bit. I don’t care if you come here or not, frankly.”

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