Voters are willing to support new wilderness designations on the Colville National Forest, a recent poll suggests, when they’re packaged with stepped-up timber harvests in other areas of the forest and new trails for off-road vehicles.
The poll was paid for by nonprofit Pew Environment Group. It surveyed 552 likely voters in Spokane, Ferry, Pend Oreille and Stevens counties in late February.
Many of the poll’s participants were unfamiliar with a proposal to designate 215,000 acres of new wilderness areas in the Colville National Forest, according to the pollsters. However, 57 percent of those surveyed supported the concept when they learned that the wilderness proposal also included more logging and motorized recreation on other parts of the 1.1 million-acre forest. Twenty-four percent opposed the plan; 18 percent were undecided. The margin of error was 5 percentage points.
“Everyone wants to see the special places in northeast Washington protected,” said Tim Coleman, program director for Conservation Northwest, which supports the plan. “This has something for everyone. That’s why there’s such a broad range of support.”
The plan drew support across party lines, with no significant difference among Republicans, Democrats and independents. However, hunters, anglers and hikers were more likely to support the wilderness proposal than off-road vehicle enthusiasts.
The poll was done on behalf of the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition, which has spent eight years working to find common ground in forest management. Timber companies, environmental groups such as Conservation Northwest, and recreation and business interests belong to the coalition.
Last summer, the coalition unveiled a proposal to expand the existing Salmo-Priest Wilderness and create new wilderness along Kettle Crest, protecting six peaks that are each more than 7,000 feet tall. The acreage is home to grizzlies, lynx and woodland caribou. Environmental groups say it represents some of the most remote, untouched land left in the lower 48 states.
As part of the package, coalition members also endorsed new trails for mountain bikes, motorcycles and ATVs. Some existing trails for those sports would go away if Congress approved new wilderness for the forest. The coalition also supports higher timber harvests, including thinning dense stands of trees.
Managers on the Colville National Forest are evaluating whether 240,000 acres of inventoried roadless areas have wilderness characteristics. Only an act of Congress can designate new wilderness areas.