Forest’s wild areas may get protection

Colville officials consider stricter land designations

To protect the rugged character of the Colville National Forest’s special places, more of them should be federally designated wilderness areas, forest officials say.

The Colville’s managers proposed adding 101,000 acres of new wilderness to the 1.1-million acre Northeast Washington forest in a recent forest plan revision.

Their preliminary recommendation would expand the existing Salmo-Priest Wilderness and create four additional wilderness areas in the Selkirk and Kettle ranges: Profanity, Hoodoo, Bald Snow and Abercrombie Hooknose.

The acreage includes popular hiking and hunting destinations, two of Eastern Washington’s tallest peaks – Abercrombie and Hooknose, each more than 7,000 feet – and habitat for grizzly bears, lynx and woodland caribou. Conservation groups say the land represents some of the wildest, most remote country left in the Lower 48 states.

“People are going to look back and thank us that we had the foresight to protect places for traditional activities and wildlife as our region continues to grow,” said Derrick Knowles, director of Conservation Northwest’s Columbia Highlands campaign.

But it’s still early in the process, cautioned Debbie Kelly, a Forest Service spokeswoman. Creating a new wilderness area requires an act of Congress, and they often take years to gain approval.

Wilderness designations are for landscapes that have kept their “primeval” character, with little impact from human activity, according to the 1964 Wilderness Act. Logging and mining are prohibited in wilderness areas, along with chain saws, motor vehicles and mountain bikes.

Grazing cattle on federal allotments is allowed.

Additional wilderness in the Colville National Forest would help provide recreation opportunities for the Spokane metro area, according to a Forest Service analysis.

Currently, only two wilderness areas exist within a three-hour drive of Spokane: the Salmo-Priest Wilderness on the Washington-Idaho border and the Juniper Dunes Wilderness in Franklin County. As the region’s population increases, demand for wilderness experiences is expected to grow.

Forest officials evaluated 21 roadless areas on the Colville for wilderness potential. About 129,500 acres didn’t make the cut.

In some areas, Forest Service officials wanted to keep the option of timber harvests to reduce fire danger near rural communities, said Margaret Hartzell, project manager for the forest plan revision. Other areas were heavily used by ATV riders and snowmobiles. Mining claims were also excluded from consideration.

Conservation Northwest and The Lands Council of Spokane had hoped to see more acres recommended for wilderness, including several thousand acres along Sherman Pass and the 13-mile Canyon area south of Republic, Wash.

Both environmental groups are part of the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition, which also includes timber companies, outdoor recreation groups and business interests.

Forestry coalition members are backing new wilderness designations on the Colville.

But they also support stepped-up logging on other parts of the national forest and investments in new trail systems for mountain bikers and motorized recreation.

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