Scotchman Peaks Wilderness: Why it is important for North Idaho

By Bill Harp
Reader Columnist

If you spend a lot of time looking at geography using satellite and aerial images like I do, you quickly realize that there are very few places in the continental US that are untouched by human hands. Yet three centuries ago, satellite imagery would have revealed few obvious signs of human influence in North America. Back then, the Idaho region was mostly a natural landscape. Sometime over 10 millennia ago, there were no people in the region of Idaho, or even North America.

Today’s remaining wild areas are noteworthy remnants of that time. Areas with the rare combination of little human impact and scenic landscapes are even more unique and rare.

The proposed Scotsman Peaks Wilderness is one of these very rare and unique places that deserves protection.  Not just because it is a unique natural landscape, but also because it is so much more:  watershed of uncontaminated waters, provider of key environmental services, natural laboratory for scientific and educational studies, habitat for endangered or threatened wildlife and plants, haven for game animals, genetic reservoir of wild plants and an island of thriving natural biodiversity.

Wilderness also serves to fuel the imagination of a time when humans existed as hunter-gatherers, where humans were not masters but cautious participants in a natural landscape. Wild areas and mountains were usually respected and sacred to the original peoples who lived here and believed by them to be inhabited by powerful spirits. How wise, then, it is to preserve the wild nature of these unique and endangered landscapes. It honors the spirit of the past, and generations to come will gratefully appreciate our stewardship and respect for these wild places.

The wilderness experience creates a vision of the profound aesthetic and transcendent spiritual appreciation of creation, just as it has for thousands of years. Time, change and transformation in these wild areas are a counterpoint to the rapid pace of modern cultures.

The values of wild areas also generate direct and indirect economic benefits to local economies through wilderness visitors and support services.  Wild areas enhance the value of adjacent public lands as buffers that can permit a wider range of exploitation and multiple-use land management. A designated wilderness is a compelling icon, creating outside interest in a region. With so very few remaining wild areas left, each qualified candidate deserves careful stewardship to ensure that its unique values are carefully managed and maintained.

As a fifth-generation Idahoan, I was born in Sandpoint, and my natal home is Clark Fork, where my grandparents and parents raised their families. I learned to fish and hike on Morris and Lightning creeks with my father, who also fished and hunted as a young man.  It is an honor to speak on behalf of preserving this iconic area and to recommend, without reservation, support for establishing the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness area.

Sites such as these are a singular national heritage and patrimony. In the U.S., there is no other designation that so effectively says this area is unique and deserves to be singled out as a respected special place that should be maintained undeveloped for its natural, scenic, cultural and recreation value for generations to come.

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