After overcoming a heated impasse, negotiators in Idaho's mediated wilderness talks have set ground rules for the next meeting and adjourned with the 19-member committee still intact.
Earlier Tuesday, environmentalists and ranchers hit a snag when the ranchers, saying environmentalists would not compromise, refused to accept any new wilderness where they currently hold grazing rights.The environmentalists appeared ready to walk out in a huff when Ty Tice, the chief mediator leading the talks, called a caucus and eased tensions.
Thirty minutes later, the groups agreed on the mid-May meeting.
But just barely.
"It's a tough process, and it's being taxed to its limits," said Tice of the Seattle-based Mediation Institute.
The 1990 Legislature appropriated $150,000 to the institute with hopes of resolving a decades-long impasse over how much more of the 9 million roadless acres in Idaho nation forests should be set aside as wilderness.
The broad-based negotiating panel is charged with forging a compromise plan. The state currently has about 4 million acres of wilderness.
In the panel's second meeting at Trail Creek Cabin, groups attempted to hammer out a wilderness proposal for the Challis and Sawtooth national forests. The morning session was smooth and civil. Even a crowd of about 75 people, mostly ranchers who oppose new wilderness, listened quietly.
But right after lunch, the fireworks erupted.
Complaining that wilderness advocates refused to make any concessions, Idaho Cattle Association and Idaho Farm Bureau officials took a strong stand of their own. They said they would accept no new wilderness in forest areas where they have permits to graze sheep, horses or cattle.
"We are 100 percent unanimous that we will not consider any wilderness proposed for entering into grazing areas or any agricultural areas," said Bob Waddoups, an Arco-area rancher who represents the cattle association.
"If they can make a proposal, then surely we can," said Idaho Farm Bureau researcher Rayola Jacobsen of the conservation camp. "Part of the process is that all the lines on the maps are made with pencils."
Environmentalists, who earlier agreed to allow grazing to continue in proposed wilderness areas, said they felt snubbed.
"I don't think any sort of wilderness process can continue if we don't include grazing allotments," said Ralph Maughan of Pocatello, co-author of "A Hiker's Guide to Idaho."
"We might as well adjourn if that's their position."
With that thought hanging in the air, Mike Piva of Challis, who is handicapped, and Bill Cobbley, an elderly man from the area, approached the bargaining table and asked how environmentalists intended to give them access to wilderness.
Maughan said people who use wheelchairs are allowed in wilderness, but Piva said, "Have you tried to climb a 10 percent grade in a wheel-chair?"