By Jim Peterson
When Bonner County voters go to the polls on May 15, one of the measures on their ballot is an advisory vote concerning U.S Sen. Jim Risch’s Scotchman Peaks Wilderness proposal.
Although I don’t live in Bonner County, many of my growing-up years were spent on my grandparent’s ranch in the Gold Creek drainage west of the area Sen. Risch has proposed for wilderness designation.
As congressionally-designated wilderness areas go, this is a small one – about 14,000 acres north of the Clark Fork River and east of Lightning Creek. I know the area well because I hiked and fished it when I was a boy.
I have publicly endorsed the Risch proposal for several reasons, not least the fact that it fits what I see in my mind’s eye when I think about suitable wilderness. Its highest points offer spectacular views of Lake Pend Oreille, and it is easily reached by most anyone with a good pair of walking shoes and a day to devote to one of the prettiest spots in Bonner County.
When you go – and I hope you will – be sure to bring your camera. You’ll never get closer to mountain goats, there are scads of wildflowers and the views call to mind the late Ross Hall’s stunning photographs of Pend Oreille and its wooded surroundings, so pack a lunch and prepare yourself to be amazed.
Because I have been advocating for science-based, multiple-use forest management for 32 years, some are surprised by my support for Scotchman Peaks wilderness designation. I am because the designation poses no threat to Bonner County’s timber-based economy, motorized recreation or mountain biking and no existing roads will be closed.
In my endorsement I am traveling in well-respected company. Among the proposal’s supporters: The Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce, Trout Unlimited, the Idaho Wildlife Federation, the Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs and the Idaho Forest Group, our state’s largest lumber manufacturer and, of course, Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, which has worked tirelessly to advance this proposal.
Sen. Risch’s proposal has its opponents. Some fret about federal overreach, but the Scotchman Peaks area is already part of the publicly-owned Idaho Panhandle National Forest and will remain so.
Others fear a wildfire start inside the proposed wilderness would spread to surrounding forests that provide timber for Bonner County sawmills. It could, but we fight wildfires wherever they occur, even inside designated wilderness.
This advisory vote is more than symbolic because Congress will want to know if Bonner County residents support the proposed designation. Sen. Risch has done his part by hosting numerous informational meetings, but if you still have questions, contact his office or peruse the beautiful Friends of Scotchman Peaks website. And for heaven’s sake, vote yes!
Jim Petersen is founder and president of the nonprofit Evergreen Foundation, publisher of Evergreen Magazine and creator of evergreenmagazine.com, the most popular forestry-related website in North America. He lives in Dalton Gardens, Idaho.