Idaho State Journal
Idaho State Journal

Activists question candidates
Environmental issues missing from talks

By Anne Minard
Journal Writer
POCATELLO - Local election hopefuls aren't trumpeting major environmental agendas this year.
But a strong core of local environmental activists say they hope local politicians and voters will consider clean water and the state of public lands as ballot decisions form.
Beatrice Brailsford is a program director for the Snake River Alliance, a nuclear activist group.
She said nuclear issues at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory are long-term - but decisions will be made within the next several years which could greatly affect long-range operations there.
"What folks should be looking for are people who will be activists," she said. "There are going to be courses charted in the next two or three years that really will determine whether or not Idaho's water is protected. In other places, the political leaders really are leading on this issue. I think we need politicians who will stand up and say, 'Idaho's water is more important than one corporation's interests'," she said.
Brailsford pointed out that all local politicians, down to city council members and county commissioners, have a place in statewide nuclear decisions.
She calls for increased awareness and input from all officials to establish a hard line against leaving nuclear waste in Idaho.
"As I have noticed, our real political leaders are being fairly quiet about this issue," she said. "I think everyone's job is to make sure no one can be quiet about this issue.
"I have been in meetings where it is very clear the underlying narrative is that the buried waste will not be dug up. We've got two or three years to make sure DOE finds it politically impossible to make that decision."
Ron Watters, of Pocatello, has written books about ski camping, cross-country skiing, whitewater rafting and back-country skiing in Idaho, among others. The outdoor enthusiast said he's most concerned right now about the aftermath of recent fires throughout the region, and how it will affect land management.
"I have a concern that our politicians are going to use the fires as an excuse to open up our forests to damaging logging," he said. "I'm hearing the politicians say we're having these bad fires because we're not thinning out our forests properly. We really need to look closely at what happened. There's been no research. We don't know what damage has been done, and whether there's any damage. In Yellowstone they found, years later, the fires have been very good for the environment."
While Watters says he hopes forests won't open up to increased logging, he admonishes federal agencies for a trend toward public land use fees that are inconsistently administered.
"Land use is going to continue to be one area of concern," he said. "Sawtooth now has a fee. You have to buy a permit to go hiking, mountain biking, or to climb. There are extra fees for rivers; a pass on the Payette River now costs $30 in order to use the parking lots."
He said the fees have come about because Congress has not supplied enough funding.
"What's happening in the West we're just creating a bunch of toll roads in Idaho. That begins to price some people out of the outdoor experience."
Watters said he wouldn't mind supplementing his taxes with a flat fee for public lands use.
"If we can come to a point where we can't afford to provide public recreational opportunities for land users, then I'm willing to pay a fee," he said. "But don't require me to pick up passes every time I move to a new national forest."