By Cameron Rasmusson
Following a meeting in January that mobilized opposition to Scotchman Peaks wilderness designation, the Clark Fork City Council has come out against the proposal.
Last week, the council publicized a letter it sent to U.S. Sen. Jim Risch withholding support for the wilderness bill he introduced to the Senate in December. The letter, which bears the signatures of Mayor Russell Schenck and council members Harold Hilton, Stan Spanski, Blaine Williams and Sheri Jones, throws a political wrench into the long-sought wilderness designation for 13,900 acres of the Idaho Scotchmans.
The letter echoes the concerns many individuals raised at the January meeting, primarily the perceived neglect of Clark Fork in the outreach leading up to Risch’s bill. According to the city’s letter, it has not been consulted or asked to support the proposed wilderness designation, despite its close proximity to the proposed wilderness.
“The Council feels we have been left out of the conversations over the proposed designation and … the USFS is required to hold local public meetings in the areas affected by the proposal,” the letter reads.
The letter also expresses confusion over how the U.S. Forest Service and Idaho Fish and Game will manage Scotchman Peaks as wilderness, especially in relation to restrictions that will be in place.
“This is causing confusion and conflict with users, such as snowmobilers, snowbikers and elderly or disabled hunters using wheeled game carriers,” the letter reads.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, the area has been managed as recommended wilderness since the 1970s. The same restrictions will largely apply should the U.S. Congress pass a law declaring it official wilderness. The most prominent difference between recommended and official wilderness is its preservation in perpetuity.
That strengthened protection is the final point of contention in the council’s letter. While wilderness supporters call for formalized protection given the unpredictable development of technology and economic growth, the council worries about its permanence.
“We also feel the designation to Wilderness is an overreach to the future generations who will use this area and for this, we recommend against this designation or, at least, to minimize the acreage of Wilderness and recommend returning the surrounding areas to multiple use management,” the council wrote in its letter.
Supporters of wilderness designation still believe the proposal has a broad-based support. They point to formal endorsements from dozens of individuals, government bodies and businesses, including the Bonner County Board of Commissioners and Idaho Forest Group, the largest regional representative of the timber industry. Phil Hough, executive director for the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, said that number includes many Clark Fork residents.
“The Clark Fork council’s resolution unfortunately does not acknowledge the large number of people who live in that area who do support wilderness designation for the Scotchman Peaks,” he said.
One such Clark Fork resident is River Journal publisher Trish Gannon, who wrote a defense of the Scotchman Peaks proposal in the March issue of her newspaper.
“You could say that our city council seems to be known for their lack of interest in federal government,” she said. “I’m not sure if their opposition letter is speaking for the community—as they certainly didn’t ask the community’s opinion in any systematic way—or if it’s just reflecting their own feelings.”