Word that Idaho officials have backed a wilderness designation for the Scotchman Peaks area has supporters on the Montana side of the border excited as well.
“This endorsement by the Sandpoint-area commissioners is another step down the path to recognizing the tremendous value of the Scotchmans,” said Doug Ferrell, a Trout Creek resident and chairman of the Friends of Scotchman Peaks organization in Montana. “In Sanders County, we’ve had really good support from our county commission, but they’ve been reluctant to make any public statement. We did just get an endorsement from the governor of Montana (Steve Bullock).”
On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that Bonner County commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution asking Congress to designate the Scotchman Peaks as a federally protected wilderness. The commission normally opposes wilderness designations.
“The message we're trying to send is Scotchman Peaks is the exception to the rule,” Commission Chairman Cary Kelly told the Bonner County Daily Bee.
Commissioner Todd Sudick added he opposes further designations of wilderness areas in the county, but would support Scotchman Peaks. Commissioner Glen Bailey said he supports managing national forests for timber harvest and mining, but would back the wilderness resolution. Wilderness designation restricts resource extraction and motorized travel.
“Scotchman Peak is beautiful,” Bailey said. “It's something I would like to see protected and preserved for our families, for our children, for all of us to enjoy.”
The 7,009-foot Scotchman Peak is Bonner County's highest point. It’s the namesake for a roughly 88,000-acre roadless area that’s about one-third on the Idaho side and two-thirds on the Montana side of the state border.
It’s also split between the Kootenai and Idaho Panhandle national forests. Both jurisdictions have completed new forest plans that call for managing Scotchman Peaks a recommended wilderness area.
Unlike the nearby Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Scotchman Peaks has few trails and only one significant lake. Its mountains are extremely steep with lots of underground water sources that discouraged early-day prospectors or loggers from seeking resources there.
But it’s also the home of one of Montana’s last major stands of cedar trees, in the already protected Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area. Lightning Creek, on the Idaho side, ranks as the wettest place in the state. It received 10 inches of rain in one day in 2006.
No one in Congress currently has legislation drafted to designate Scotchman Peaks as a wilderness. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, has been working on pulling together a wilderness bill covering several places in central Idaho. Other advocates have asked President Barack Obama to use executive authority to declare a national monument covering 592,000 acres of Idaho, including the Boulder and White Cloud mountains.
The area was not included in Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which did propose a 74,274-acre Three Rivers Special Management Area and 26,869-acre Rodrick Wilderness Area northwest of Libby.
Ferrell said it was unclear how the Scotchmans might move forward, given the congressional tradition that members don’t propose land designations in other members’ states without working out some agreement in advance.
“We were waiting for the forest plans to be released, and their recommendation was what we expected and hoped for,” Ferrell said. “That’s our kickoff, and now we will ask for legislation. We’re trying to show the delegations there’s great support for this.”