U.S. Sen. Jim Risch introduced legislation Thursday to protect the Idaho portion of the craggy, but scenic Scotchman Peaks as a federal wilderness area.
The action follows a decade of grassroots efforts to gain wilderness status for the peaks northeast of Lake Pend Oreille. The area has little commercial timber, but enjoys high recreational use.
The Idaho side of the proposed wilderness encompasses about 14,000 acres of national forest land, including Bonner County’s tallest mountain. Scotchman Peak, elevation 7,009 feet, has a popular hiking trail that takes visitors to a summit overlooking the Clark Fork River delta. Mountain goats frequent the trail.
The entire Scotchman Peaks area is about 88,000 acres, including federal land in Montana that would require separate wilderness legislation.
Risch, a Republican, said he plans to hold hearings on the legislation next year. Congressional approval is needed to create new wilderness areas, which limits development and motorized use to preserve the natural character of the land and ecological functions.
“If passed, this legislation would allow future generations of Idahoans to enjoy Scotchman Peaks, while at the same time protecting the needs and rights of local communities and tribes,” Risch said in a statement. “This bill was introduced today to start the public process, and will not move forward until I hear from Idahoans directly about this topic.”
The nonprofit Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, which formed in 2005 to generate support for the new wilderness designation, praised Risch’s action.
“We are grateful to Senator Risch for introducing this bill,” said Phil Hough, executive director of the Sandpoint-based group. “There is tremendous support for protecting this special part of Idaho as wilderness for the benefit of present and future generations.”
More than 6,000 people have signed petitions supporting the wilderness designation. The majority of them live within a two-hour drive of Scotchman Peaks, according to the nonprofit.
The Bonner County Board of Commissioners endorsed a wilderness designation for Scotchman Peaks last year.
“Anyone who has hiked to the top of the peak understands the majesty of the area and the importance of preserving it,” said Cary Kelly, the board’s chairman.
The Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce and Idaho Forest Group, which operates sawmills in North Idaho, also support it.
“There are some parts of the national forest that should be managed for timber production and some parts of the forest that should be managed for wilderness,” said Bob Boeh, Idaho Forest Group’s vice president of government affairs.
Outdoors Editor Rich Landers contributed to this report.
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