BOISE, Idaho — The final management plan has been approved for the last two of Idaho's three most recent wilderness areas that protect some of the most pristine landscapes in central Idaho.
The signing on Tuesday of the Hemingway-Boulders and Cecil D. Andrus White Clouds Wilderness Management Plan by the U.S. Forest Service puts the finishing touches on a nearly two-decade effort by Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho.
The Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management signed off on the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness Plan earlier this month.
"I'm very pleased," Simpson said in a statement Friday. The plans "should provide for clear understanding of management of the area for years to come."
The plans are generally described as taking a middle-ground approach when it comes to restrictions on human visitors and activities.
Group size is limited to 12 people. The Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness limits stock animals to 20, while the limit in the other two wilderness areas is 14. Pack goats, which officials say could spread diseases to bighorn sheep, have some limits on where they're allowed.
Campfires are also prohibited above 8,800 feet (2,700 meters) of elevation. Officials say that's to protect slow-growing whitebark pine trees from being chopped up and used for firewood.
The three wilderness areas combined protect some 463 square miles (1,200 square kilometers).
The Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness is mostly in the Salmon-Challis National Forest with about 20 percent managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
The Cecil D. Andrus White Clouds and Hemingway-Boulders wilderness areas are in the Sawtooth National Forest, though about 1 percent of the White Clouds is BLM land.
The two agencies worked together to create the wilderness plans, holding multiple public meetings over the last three years.
The plans will likely be in place for at least 10 years but that officials will monitor activities in the wilderness areas and some changes are possible, said Emily Simpson, a Bureau of Land Management wilderness planner.
President Barack Obama signed the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act in August 2015 after Simpson got ranchers, recreationists and environmental groups to back the plan.
He'd been working on wilderness designation for 15 years, but some groups upset with the delay pushed Obama to designate a much larger area a national monument. That possibility is widely believed to have led to the wilderness bill passing despite opposition, particularly in rural Custer County where some of the wilderness area is located.
Custer County Commission Chairman Wayne Butts said traffic counts jumped from 50 vehicles a day to more than 200 after the wilderness designation, but the county did not receive any money for road maintenance or for rescuing visitors whose adventures go awry.
"No more wilderness, plain and simple," he said. "Shouldn't have happened in the first place."
He said he was hopeful President Donald Trump would do something to shrink the wilderness areas as he did with national monuments in Utah. But experts have said wilderness areas are created by Congress, and it would require Congress to undo them.
The 2015 legislation approving the wilderness areas allows continued livestock grazing. The legislation also allows livestock owners with grazing permits to relinquish the permits and permanently end grazing on those allotments in the wilderness.
A number of permit holders have done that in all three wilderness areas, Emily Simpson said.