In a huge and long-awaited win for conservation, Congress has passed legislation to permanently protect Idaho’s stunning Boulder-White Clouds region as wilderness.
The bill, which was first introduced in the House by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), passed the Senate on Aug. 4, designating more than 275,000 acres of snowy peaks and gorgeous lake-filled terrain as wilderness in the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains, one of the largest intact roadless areas in the country that lacked permanent protection. President Barack Obama signed it into law on Aug. 7.
The Wilderness Society has worked for decades with partners both locally and nationally to secure permanent protection for this truly exceptional stretch of wildlands. We would not be celebrating this victory without years of advocacy and generosity from you, our supporters. Thank you!
“The Wilderness Society is incredibly grateful for the stalwart work of Congress to work together for a remarkable place like Idaho’s Boulder-White Clouds,” said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society. “Legions of Americans can visit this wild landscape for years to come and it will remain unchanged—and for that we have countless local advocates to thank and the dedication of elected leaders like Congressman Mike Simpson, who led his colleagues toward bipartisan agreement. This is truly a time to reflect on the value of the Wilderness Act, fifty years since its passage, and the good work it continues to deliver for nature and the American people.”
Spectacular wilderness decades in the making
The Boulder-White Cloud Mountains preside over a breathtaking expanse of rugged wildlands that includes delicately-balanced habitat for mule deer, bighorn sheep, black bears, mountain goats and elk. New wilderness protections will help connect summer and winter ranges for wildlife in the area, a critical tool to aid both their annual migration and ongoing adaptation to the effects of climate change.
High alpine waterways in the Boulder-White Clouds, such as the headwaters of the East Fork Salmon River and main Salmon River, are home to salmon and steelhead, which have migrated to and from the Pacific Ocean from this spot—one of the longest salmon migration routes in the world—for thousands of years.
In addition to safeguarding habitat, designating wilderness here preserves the land for current and future generations of sportsmen, hikers and nature-lovers, to the enrichment and financial betterment of surrounding areas. One analysis found that a protective designation of this area could boost the economy of nearby counties by up to $12 million annually.
Protecting this land is not a new idea. The Wilderness Society and partners have been working with elected officials to craft a locally-supported proposal to preserve the Boulder-White Clouds for more than 30 years. Prominent Idahoans, including former governor Cecil Andrus, have voiced their support for the idea of protecting the region permanently. Now, finally, we have a big win for wilderness.
Take a look at some of the sights in this majestic landscape, and thank Congress for ensuring this place stays as wild as possible for generations to come!
All photos courtesy of Ed Cannady Photography.
The tallest mountain in the White Cloud range (and the entire Sawtooth National Recreation Area) is Castle Peak, an Idaho icon at about 11,815 feet. It towers above nearby summits, offering a once-in-a-lifetime panoramic view of the surrounding land, including more than two dozen lakes reportedly visible from its summit. Just as tremendous as its physical presence is the place it holds in backpackers’ lore; Castle Peaks’ craggy surface is considered a major challenge not lightly undertaken.
Additionally, Castle Peak was the center of a decades-old debate that helped define Idaho’s conservation movement for years to come, as a proposed open-pit metal mine triggered an outcry from local conservationists. This led to the designation of the greater Sawtooth National Recreation Area, protecting the area from mining and other activities that might significantly change the landscape.
The White Clouds, so-named for the way their snow-capped peaks mingle with the sky overhead, are a 22-mile stretch of multi-hued mountains twisting north of the Boulder range like a rocky antler. Speckled with clear high-elevation lakes and patches of alpine woodland, the area gets fewer visitors than some nearby public lands but is a favorite of hikers in the know.
Containing at least 12 mountain summits taller than 11,000 feet, the Boulder Mountains are no less spectacular. They are one of Idaho’s most impressive ranges and a popular destination for hikers. The summit of Ryan Peak is the tallest point in the Boulders.
Many may consider mountains to be the main draw of this region, but the Boulder-White Clouds reportedly contain over 120 different lakes, including some of the highest elevation lakes in the state.
Likely the most iconic lakes in the region are the clear, scenic Boulder Chain Lakes. The highest-elevation of these is the evocatively-named Lonesome Lake, one of the highest-altitude named lakes in the state and a solitary refuge.
That's not the only noteworthy body of water in the Boulder-White Clouds region. A bit to the west of the Boulder Mountains, the East Fork of the Salmon River comprises the highest-altitude spawning grounds for salmon and steelhead in the continental U.S. and a crucial habitat for bull trout, Wood River sculpin and other species. The Salmon River is one of the largest in the U.S., and is considered a cradle of life in the greater Columbia River Basin.
In addition to significant hunting, fishing and hiking resources, Boulder-White Clouds is a great spot for camping and shorter, more family-friendly backpacking expeditions. Pictured above is a tent pitched near Pika Lake.
Of course, Boulder-White Clouds does not only provide refuge for people. It also contains delicately-balanced habitat for wildlife including mule deer, elk, moose, black bears, wolverines and mountain lions. No matter where you look, nature abounds.
It’s time to celebrate this incredible place and thank the lawmakers who helped preserve it for future generations! Thank Congress for protecting Boulder-White Clouds!