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New Idaho Wilderness Area Bills on Track in Congress

Thousands of acres of magnificent Idaho backcountry and rugged peaks are on the verge of federal protection with a compromise hammered out between two of the state's key lawmakers. Two identical bills to protect untrammeled scenic areas in the Boulder-White Clouds region of central Idaho are finally getting action in Congress after years of inaction and political frustration.

The measures - written by veteran Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson and duplicated in the Senate by Jim Risch - would designate about 272-thousand acres in the Sawtooth Mountain range as wilderness areas, and wall them off from development, mining, logging and other commercial activities.

Risch, who had derailed a similar bill in 2010 because it would have excluded motorized off-road vehicles, agreed to Simpson's new bill because it removes motorized recreation areas from protection.

Their work was spurred by White House plans to create a national monument area by presidential decree. The lawmakers get a promise from President Obama to hold off and give Simpson and Risch time to see if they could ram their bill through Congress.

The new bill, which is getting a Senate hearing later this month, grandfathers in traditional grazing rights in the protected areas, and it makes small grants of land and money to local governments in the region.

Simpson expects a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee next month.

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