By Lyndsie Kiebert
The advisory vote may be over, but the proposed Scotchman Peaks wilderness was still at the forefront of discussion Tuesday at the Bonner County Commissioners’ meeting.
The agenda featured two Scotchman-centric items. First, the commissioners retracted county support for Scotchman Peaks Wilderness issue in keeping with the May 15 advisory vote outcome, which resulted in a majority of the county opposed. A majority of the commissioners also voted to request that the U.S. Forest Service stop managing the area as proposed wilderness.
The new resolution to oppose the proposal rescinds the 2015 resolution under which the BOCC at the time officially supported wilderness designation. All four members of the public who attended to comment on the new resolution supported it.
“I want to thank the board for realizing an injustice had occurred with the letter sent to Risch expecting him to move forward with the wilderness bill,” said Clark Fork Mayor Russell Schenck.
Schenck said the advisory vote showed 73 percent of voters at the Clark Fork and Lakeview precincts — those he said are most affected by the proposal — voted in opposition.
“There was total misrepresentation saying there was unilateral support,” he said.
The drafted resolution included two paragraphs listing other agencies, boards and groups that oppose the Scotchman Peaks proposal. Commissioner Jeff Connolly argued the resolution should be amended to omit those references.
“We should be doing exactly what we said we would do, which is give this resolution to Sen. Risch saying the voters have clearly spoken — they clearly do not want the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness,” Connolly said. “We’re making a statement for a bunch of other (groups) when I want to just make a statement for ourselves.”
Commissioner Dan McDonald said he thought the references were necessary to reflect the breadth of opposition.
“It’s perfectly appropriate to say, ‘it’s not just the voters, here we have these other folks that are also opposed to it,’” McDonald said. “I don’t see a problem with it.”
Commissioner Glen Bailey made note that the advisory vote opposition was only a small majority overall. The vote outcome on May 15 resulted in 54 percent against the wilderness versus 46 percent in favor.
“We as county commissioners represent all the people of Bonner County. There’s two sides,” he said. “We don’t need to be sticking our finger in the eye of those who supported Scotchman Peaks as wilderness.”
The commissioners amended the resolution to eliminate the two paragraphs listing other opposed entities, but agreed to put that information in a cover letter. The amended resolution passed 3-0.
Also on the commissioners’ Tuesday agenda was a resolution to request USFS discontinue management of the Scotchman Peaks area as wilderness. USFS began managing the area as wilderness in 2015 so as not to disqualify it for designation, according to Sandpoint District Ranger Erick Walker.
Local man Herb Wiens urged the commissioners to prioritize recreation in Clark Fork by working with USFS to build managed campgrounds and improved access.
“The county ought to push the Forest Service to help us elevate Clark Fork from (being) the red-haired economic stepchild of the county,” he said.
It was a sentiment echoed by half a dozen meeting attendees who made comment. Chainsaw use and timber management were also cited as reasons to stop wilderness-level regulations in the area.
Connolly said he felt the proposed resolution was redundant, seeing as the commission passed a resolution to support an executive order on the same topic in April. The executive order, drafted by the Idaho Recreation Council and Idaho State Snowmobile Association, would require land management practices in Idaho’s proposed wilderness areas to honor multiple-use tradition.
Connolly said he felt everything the new resolution was meant to accomplish had already been accomplished when the board signed the letter of support for the executive order.
“(The letter we already signed) gives a clear path as to how you’re going to accomplish that,” he said. “The agreement was to back the voters (on Scotchman Peaks). I don’t remember having a discussion about this.”
Local man Doug Paterson said the board had a chance to make their “wishes more clear” by writing a letter specifically about Scotchman Peaks to USFS. McDonald agreed.
There were no proposed amendments to the resolution. The final vote was 2-1 — Connolly opposed — meaning the commission will urge USFS to cease wilderness regulations in the Scotchman region.