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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Roadless areas under siege

With Lake Pend Oreille sprawling in the background to the south, a group of hikers takes a break on top of 7,009-foot Scotchman Peak, the highest point in Bonner County. 
 (The Spokesman-Review)
With Lake Pend Oreille sprawling in the background to the south, a group of hikers takes a break on top of 7,009-foot Scotchman Peak, the highest point in Bonner County. (The Spokesman-Review)
Rich Landers Outdoors editor

The Scotchman Peaks region north of Lake Pend Oreille is among the darlings of Idaho’s unofficial wilderness areas.

Studded with peaks and ripe with lakes, streams and wildlife, the area was among the first in the state to be embraced by conservationists for a campaign launched in June.

The Idaho Conservation League’s Adopt-A-Roadless Area program is a grass-roots approach to putting a local face on some 235 pristine regional landscapes that often get lumped into a 9.3-million-acre heap.

“It’s daunting to explain to people the reason for protecting more than 9 million acres of roadless area,” said Phil Hough of Sagle. “To get the word out you have to make the issue smaller and more manageable.”

Hough is among a growing group of people statewide who have, so far, adopted more than 50 roadless areas comprising about half of the unprotected roadless regions in the state, according to the ICL. Each person has promised to visit his or her adopted area, learn about the unique values of that landscape and increase public awareness about the threats to it.

“Adopting the Scotchman Peaks was easy for me,” Hough said. “I was already doing all of those things.”

Hough is among a group that’s founded the Sandpoint-based Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness. The group organized to revive an effort that was nearly successful in the 1980s to designate 88,000 acres of national forest straddling the Idaho-Montana border as federally protected wilderness.

With the Idaho Panhandle and Kootenai national forests revising their management plans, this seemed to be the right time, Hough said.

“Idaho has the most roadless area of any of the states in the lower 48,” said Jonathan Oppenheimer, ICL spokesman in Boise. “These special places are part of the reason that Idaho is such a great place to live, but they’re taken for granted. People don’t realize that these places aren’t really protected from the potential of threats like mining.”

Errant snowmobilers who probe into the roadless area are clearest new threats to the wilderness values of the Scotchman Peaks, Hough said. The friends group is particularly concerned about the impact snowmobilers could have on the area mountain goats.

“By adopting the Scotchmans, I’ve promised to do what I can, to attend hearings and write letters and generally be a guardian and advocate for its protection,” Hough said.

The effort isn’t all work and no play.

“We’ve been getting people to come hiking with us almost every week to see parts of the area, and we got even more after we had a booth at the Bonner County Fair,” Hough said.

The Scotchman Peaks proposed wilderness includes more than 25 named peaks and ridges. About 60 miles of trails lead to some of the area’s popular features. The most heavily used trails lead to:

“Star Peak, home of an seasonally active fire lookout.

“Little Spar Lake, on the Montana side and one of only a few lakes in the area.

“ Scotchman Peak, the highest point in Bonner County at 7,009 feet.

In Washington, conservationists continue to call for more permanent protection of roadless areas along the Kettle Range near Republic and the Sierra Club is making the case for protecting lands adjacent to the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness.

But the revival of interest in roadless areas near Lake Pend Oreille seems contagious.

Sandpoint’s Kinnikinnick Chapter of the Idaho Native Plant Society has adopted the Bee Top Roadless Area, which forms the back drop for views across Lake Pend Oreille from Sandpoint.

“Like the adjacent Scotchman Peaks area, Bee Top is important to Lake Pend Oreille because of the clean water that flows out of it and into the Clark Fork River and eventually the lake,” Hough said.

Chapter members plan to exercise their skills, feed their enjoyment and do an adoptive service by conducting a plant inventory near Porcupine Lake this month.

“What amazes me now that I’ve signed on as an advocate for the Scotchmans is how little people know about their back yard,” Hough said. “Even though we look at Scotchman Peak and the roadless area from Lake Pend Oreille Every day, the most common question we heard at our fair booth was ‘Where are the Scotchman Peaks?’”

The 88,000-acre area is bounded by roads that offer considerable, although rugged options for exploration. Major accesses include Lightning Creek Road on the west side, Rattle-Keeler Pass off a minor forest road on the north side, and State Highway 56 to the east and U.S. Highway 200 to the south along Lake Pend Oreille.

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