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Friends of Scotchman Peaks highlights proposed wilderness area with flyovers

by LAUREN REICHENBACH
Staff Writer | October 10, 2023 1:00 AM

As part of an effort to highlight their campaign, the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness partnered with Colorado-based Ecoflight to offer a flight over the Sandpoint, Lake Pend Oreille and Clark Fork areas in Idaho and into Montana to circumvent the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.

Situated along the Idaho-Montana border, the Scotchman Peaks are an 88,000-acre, roadless area being managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The FSPW have been on a mission since 2005 to make sure this area is “kept wild forever.” However, the proposal has received negativity over the years, which is why the area is still not officially wilderness.

“It was fascinating to look down on the peak we climbed just yesterday, putting so many things into a different perspective,” said Phil Hough, executive director of FSPW.

Supporters of the wilderness proposal say it is needed because the wilderness designation would protect and preserve the natural condition of the Scotchmans’ steep mountains and deep valleys, which hold large communities of plants, animals, clear streams and precious solitude. Critics, however, have pushed back against it, saying it will prohibit the use of motorized vehicles and hunting in the area.

FSPW officials said that will not be the case. Hunting and fishing are set to remain the same, and according to staff, the Idaho Panhandle National Forest already prohibits the use of motorized vehicles within the proposed wilderness area, so visitors allegedly wouldn't be able to notice a difference should the proposal be approved.

Other concerns encompass that while there are currently no logging or mining operations happening in the proposed wilderness area, that could change in the coming years and loggers and miners want the ability to work the area should they change their minds. These operations, FSPW communications manager Rose Olson said, could permanently negatively change the area.

“Even though theyre not doing anything with [the area] right now, they’re like, ‘What if we want to do something with it later?’” she said. “There’s not even a lot of opportunities for that anyway.”

While the proposal has its critics, FSPW officials said the plan also has received multitudes of support. They hope that will continue to grow as they work to spread awareness and educate locals to the benefits they believe designating the wilderness area will bring.

In 2016, the proposed wilderness was in the hands of Bill S. 3531, proposed by Idaho Senator James Risch. In 2018, Bonner County commissioners put a non-binding advisory vote on their ballot to measure local support for the bill. Over 56% of Bonner County voters squashed the plan, though, and Risch subsequently squashed the bill, honoring the voters’ opinions.

However, that vote of disapproval did not deter the FSPW staff — it has only encouraged them to work harder.

"Even after we designate the Scotchmans as wilderness, we will continue to restore the land and build community around a love for our wild backyard,” said FSPW board chair Mark Cochran.

Olson said staff will continue to work tirelessly with state government leaders to preserve these mountains and ensure that future generations can enjoy their splendor for years to come.

Learn more about the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, donate or become a “Friend” on their website at www.scotchmanpeaks.org/get-involved/.