Idaho ballot loss seen as a setback but efforts will continue for Wilderness area designation
By Tracy McNew
The Scotchman Peaks are part of the Cabinet Mountains that include about 88,000 acres of roadless area spanning the Montana-Idaho border.
Sandy Compton, program coordinator for the nonprofit organization, Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness (FSPW), said the area is one of the last and largest wild areas in the region.
FSPW’s mission is “to protect the Scotchman Peaks for future generations through Wilderness designation, ongoing stewardship and education.”
The group does extensive trail work to keep trails in good shape and build new sections for hikers to enjoy. They also host free outdoor educational hikes including the spring birding field trip that was held in Libby on April 28 and the upcoming old growth ecology hike that will be held on June 16 at Ross Creek Cedars.
FSWP also hosts events to promote participation in outdoor education and activities. They’ve hosted artists’ receptions, book signings and they are planning to co-host a showing of Always at the Dome Theatre in June.
FSPW’s goal of obtaining a Wilderness designation for Scotchman Peaks however, is not quite so easily achieved.
For FSPW, the Wilderness designation would have to be made twice, once in Montana and once in Idaho because the proposed Wilderness area is in both states.
The Wilderness Act (National Wilderness Preservation System) was signed into law in 1964 in the United States. If an area is congressionally designated a Wilderness area under the act, then according to the law, “the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, … man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
In practical terms, what this means is that motorized vehicles would not be allowed, roads could not be built and in essence, the area would be protected from the impact of man for the foreseeable future.
To better understand Wilderness areas, think of The Bob, also known as the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area located near Glacier National Park.
The Bob is open to hiking, hunting, fishing, camping, horseback riding, and more, but it is not open to motorized vehicles or mechanical equipment such as bicycles. It has and will remain roadless without threat from the activities of man such as logging and mining.
Activities such as mining and logging however are often an area of concern and even contention about Wilderness designations because they bring needed jobs and growth to rural communities.
Wilderness areas do not allow logging or mining, but the Scotchman Peaks area has no logging or mining activities occurring that would be need to be stopped.
The now-closed Troy mine borders the Scotchman Peaks, and according to FSWP’s website, the group maintained a strong collaborative working relationship with the Revett company that owned it.
The Troy mine is now in reclamation and owned by Hecla. Hecla’s two proposed mines are also close by, but their adits are on private land. Neither the Rock Creek nor the Montanore mine would be within the Scotchman Peaks proposed Wilderness area. (see map)
FSPW’s website specifically states that they will not take a position on the planned mines and that their focus remains on the proposed Wilderness. It also says, “Hecla has shown strong interest in community concerns, and commitment to responsible mining. We look forward to ongoing conversations with them as well, to protect the wilderness and natural values of the Scotchmans and surrounding area.”
FSPW’s outreach efforts and collaborative approach with entities such as Revett have earned the group much support. On Dec. 8, 2018, Idaho Senator Jim Risch introduced the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness Act in Congress in Idaho.
The bill would have designated 13,960 (0.5%) of the 2,500,000 acres in the Idaho Panhandle Nation Forest as Wilderness area. The area proposed has no motorized or mechanized trails that would have been closed.
Idaho’s Bonner County primary election was held on Tuesday, May 15, and with over 10,500 voters weighing in. The measure narrowly failed with only 46% in favor.
“It was certainly a disappointment,” Compton said. “We don’t expect that the senator will continue to pursue a wilderness bill at this time, but that doesn’t mean we’re done. Politicians come and go, but the mountains are still there. There are still trails to work on, kids to get outside and other avenues of protection to pursue.” Both Compton and Annie Gassmann, FSPW’s Lincoln County Outreach Coordinator confirmed on Sunday, May 20 that although the group suffered a setback in Bonner County, Idaho last week, FSPW will continue working for and in the Scotchmans into the future.