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Scotchman Peaks Wilderness Proposal Gets Public Scrutiny


For years, Phil Hough, the executive director of the group Friends of the Scotchman Peaks, based in Sandpoint, Idaho, has worked to convince the federal government to designate the remote area as wilderness. The peaks are a set of craggy mountains in an area that straddles the Idaho-Montana border north and east of Lake Pend Oreille.

“It’s one of the last and largest wild roadless areas in our region and folks for many decades have actually been engaged with the process of trying to make it a designated wilderness, going back into the 1970s when the Forest Service conducted reviews of their lands to determine which areas were roadless and which areas were suitable for wilderness. They identified the Scotchman Peaks roadless areas as one of the prime candidates in our region," Hough said.

And now, nearly 40 years later, it appears there is finally consensus for the proposal.

A little more context: The Forest Service first recommended the area be declared wilderness 30 years ago. Shanda Dekome, the Idaho Panhandle National Forest’s ecosystem staff officer, says that means traditional uses such as hiking and berry picking are allowed. No mining. No timber harvest. No motorized vehicles. Those wouldn’t change if the area is formally designated wilderness.

“What’s going to change, though, are going to be smaller things like, the Forest Service or any of their agents, like anybody that’s volunteering for us, can use things like handheld motorized equipment like chainsaws in recommended wilderness. If it becomes designated wilderness, that will not be the case," Dekome said. "Nobody will be allowed to use chainsaws at all.”

And Dekome says the size of groups traveling through the area would be limited.    

“A party wouldn’t be able to have more than, the maximum would be 12 heart beats. So that would be like 10 people and two mules. And then they have to be a certain distance apart,” she said.

Last December, the political process began toward declared Scotchman Peaks as wilderness. Idaho U.S. Senator Jim Risch introduced a bill that had the support of the Bonner County Commissioners and the local chamber of commerce. But it was so close to the end of the session that the legislation went nowhere. Now Risch is apparently ready to try again. On Tuesday his staff held an open house in the town of Hope, Idaho to review his proposal one more time. And, after 12 years of working the issue, Phil Hough is optimistic about the bill’s chances.