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Idaho House again kills resolution honoring 50th anniversary of Sawtooth National Recreation Act

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The Sawtooth National Recreation Area is home to more than 300 high-elevation mountain lakes, including this unnamed lake at the base of Thompson Peak. (Clark Corbin/Idaho Capital Sun)

Many Republicans who voted against measure say they oppose federal management of land

For the second time in a week, the Idaho House of Representatives killed a nonbinding resolution intended to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Sawtooth National Recreation Act.

House Concurrent Resolution 51 failed on a 22-45 vote Wednesday. The resolution “recognizes the 50th anniversary of the Sawtooth National Recreation Act and celebrates the contributions that Idahoans have made to protect and appreciate this iconic landscape in Idaho.”

Congress approved the Sawtooth National Recreation Act in 1972, which was sponsored by former U.S. Sens. Frank Church and Len Jordan. The act established and protected the 756,000-acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area, created the Sawtooth Wilderness within it and banned mining. The Sawtooth National Recreation Area includes more than 700 miles of hiking trails, 300 high-elevation mountain lakes and is a popular place for Idahoans and tourists to enjoy hiking, fishing, backpacking, hunting, kayaking, camping, mountain biking and climbing. Redfish Lake, the headwaters of the Salmon River and the Sawtooth, Boulder, White Cloud and Smoky mountain ranges are all located in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

“I am just trying to honor some hard workers and some beautiful land in our state, that’s about it,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ned Burns, D-Bellevue.

But for the second time in a week, Republicans seized on the resolution, which they said goes against their preference for the state to own and manage the lands, not the U.S. Forest Service.

“This is not a celebration of the wilderness of the state of Idaho, this is a celebration of the federal government’s overreach and management of what should be state lands,” said Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett. “That’s what this is, pure and simple.”

Rep. Ron Nate, R- Rexburg, also debated against the resolution.

“I was going to say that this bill just makes fluffy statements about how great the government declaration is on this, but it’s actually more serious than that,” Nate said. “We are honoring federal control, federal management of lands. I am also surprised that the House has spoken once, it gets sent back, here it is again.”

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, debated in favor of the resolution. Rubel told legislators that when she moved to Idaho 21 years ago, she didn’t know anyone, was devastated and homesick. That changed the first day she hiked in the Sawtooth National Recreation and was surrounded by stunning peaks and crystal clear mountain streams. Having grown up in a large city, Rubel said she was amazed there are still places like that that are protected and free for the public to enjoy.

“It is an unbelievable treasure,” Rubel said. “My only complaint about this resolution is that it’s going to get the word out to the world on this incredible treasure that we have here. Nobody knows it’s there. They’re off wasting their time at Yellowstone and other places not realizing that the most gorgeous place in North America is actually sitting here in Idaho”

On March 9, the Idaho House killed an earlier version of the resolution, Senate Concurrent Resolution 117 by a 18-51 vote. That resolution had previously passed the Idaho Senate via a voice vote on Feb. 23.

Burns worked with one of the original resolution’s opponents to strike out references to future wilderness in Idaho, hoping new House Resolution 51 would avoid opposition that doomed the first resolution.

“Now what we have before us is a straight resolution honoring the creation of SNRA and the fine folks who have worked there over the years,” Burns told legislators.

In the end, it wasn’t close. Republicans led the effort to kill the bill, which failed on a 22-45 vote.