By Cameron Rasmusson
Following a Clark Fork meeting that drew several people opposing the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, is reminding people that there’s still plenty of time to make opinions known.
Risch, who sent staffers to the Clark Fork meeting to gather feedback, is pleased constituents are interested in voicing their opinions on the proposed wilderness bill, which he introduced in December. However, he is surprised that some people feel they’ve been shut out of the conversation.
“I’m hearing through the grapevine that some people are saying, ‘We’ve been left out of the process,’” Risch said at his Washington, D.C., office last week. “There has been no process. We’re at the beginning of the process.”
“They’re going to have the opportunity to get their two cents in,” he later added.
According to Risch, he introduced the bill after observing that it had broad-based support among the timber industry, elected officials, businesses, newspapers and sportsmen. Among those who have endorsed the proposal are the Bonner County Board of Commissioners and the Idaho Forest Group.
“Nothing’s been decided yet,” Risch said. “I only introduced this because support seemed to have reached critical mass from a large cross-section of people.”
Significant push-back only emerged recently at the Clark Fork meeting, where many individuals offered testimony urging that the bill be dropped. According to Risch staffer Darren Parker, who reviewed their comments, their concerns were largely ideological, although he said Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler had some practical concerns about conducting search and rescue operations in wilderness. According to representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, however, search and rescue shouldn’t be an issue should the bill be signed into law.
According to Risch, he understands the impulse to be leery of federal activity, even if the land under consideration is already managed by federal agencies.
“I’m one of those people,” he said. “I’m very leery of anything that has the federal government attached to it.”
“I’m the most conservative member of the United States Senate, according to the National Journal so I understand the … theoretical arguments and ideology” he later added.
However, Risch reminds locals that should the region be declared wilderness, there won’t be any significant changes. The main purpose of the bill will be to ensure that Scotchman Peaks is protected as a pristine environment in perpetuity.
“There’s an argument to be made that if this is designated as wilderness, it gets the federal government out of it, because they’re not going to be in there pounding up signs saying that you can’t do this or that,” he said.