Boy Scouts of America troops are six months away from the end of a partnership that could drop the number of Scouts BSA and Cub Scouts in the Treasure Valley by as many as 10,000 members.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ centurylong collaboration with the Boy Scouts comes to an end in December. In the following month, the church will roll out its own children and youth development program, replacing its partnership with the Boy Scouts of America.
The church sponsors roughly 80% of the troops in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon. In August, officials estimated Scouts BSA and Cub Scouts numbers in the Treasure Valley could drop from around 14,000 to 4,000 or 5,000 after the split. Despite that, Lynn Gunter, Ore-Ida Council scout executive, said the council is still adding new members.
“Our council is growing at a faster rate than this time last year, and volunteers are currently organizing several new units to accommodate the geographical spread of the families in our area,” Gunter said in a written statement. Gunter declined a request for an interview and would not comment on the specifics of the growth the organization was experiencing. The Ore-Ida Council incorporates troops in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon.
Nationally, about 15% of the 2.2 million youth in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts programs are part of the Latter-day Saints church, according to the national Boy Scouts of America office.
The church’s new children and youth initiative will replace all other youth programs, including Boy Scouts.
Doug Andersen, spokesman for the church, said the church’s new youth development program will have similar elements to Boy Scouts, such as outdoor activity and camping.
Scouts in the church are allowed to continue participating in Boy Scouts even after the church launches its new program.
Previously, all male youth of the church were encouraged to enroll in Boy Scouts.
Starting in June, Boy Scouts staff were allowed to begin recruiting youth and families in church-sponsored troops to join community-based packs and troops, according to Andersen.
Local staff will work with officials at the national branch of Boy Scouts of America to educate families in Idaho about continuing their participation in Boy Scouts, Gunter said in an email.
Adam Northup, scoutmaster for Troop 62 of Meridian, said in the coming months he expects scouts in church-sponsored troops who want to keep scouting will start looking into community troops.
There are about 30 scouts in Troop 62, about a half-dozen of whom are members of the Latter-day Saints church. Northup said he doesn’t anticipate losing any members in December.
“Any youth who are members of the church will be part of the program,” he said. “If they still want to be involved in Scouts, they’ll be involved in that over and above their new program.”
The Boy Scouts of America launched its program to allow girls, ages 11 to 17, in February. Troop 1 out of Meridian has grown to 14 female scouts, said Dana Higby, scoutmaster of Troop 1. Girls and boys in Troop 1 operate as separate troops, but while the girls troop, or Troop 1G, gains more members, the two troops are still doing camp-outs and opening and closing ceremonies at meetings together.
Nationally, roughly 78,000 girls have joined Cub Scouts and roughly 20,000 have joined Scouts BSA, according to the national Boy Scouts of America office. Higby said there are five or so Scouts BSA girls troops in the Treasure Valley, including troops in Boise and Middleton.
There has been speculation that the LDS church’s decision to part ways with Boy Scouts of America was connected to Boy Scouts deciding to allow gay troop leaders in 2015 and girls in 2017 into its ranks. Andersen said “that’s not our rationale.”
Andersen said the church is a global organization, and the Boys Scouts of America pertains only to the United States and Canada. The church’s new youth program allows the church to be uniform around the world.
Northup said even after the split, the focus of Boy Scouts will be “serving the youth.”
“The program is going to remain healthy,” he said. “The kids that are dedicated scouters will still scout.”