Like many Idahoans, I depend upon our public lands for my livelihood. As a representative of the timber industry, I understand how important it is to have healthy forests that produce wood for products that we all use in our homes, jobs and hobbies. But I also understand how critical it is to preserve our wildest lands – the lands that keep our water and air clean and serve as a home for wildlife.
That is why I was pleased to hear that Sen. Jim Risch introduced the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness Act. This legislation will safeguard roughly 13,900 acres of public lands in Bonner County as wilderness.
My love and respect for our nation’s wild places began long before I worked in timber. I was born in Montana, but have lived all over the Northwest. As a kid, I spent a lot of time outdoors with my dad. He was in the Air Force near Spokane, and we would hunt for pheasants in the fall and hike and fish in the mountains during the summer. The time I spent in the forest made me realize that I never wanted to leave.
After I graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in forestry, I started working in the timber industry.
A lot of people don’t see the connection between conservation and the timber industry. However, over the past 30 years, conservationists and timber representatives have slowly come together to find solutions to preserve the wildest areas that we all love to hike, hunt, fish and horseback ride in while also providing people with the wood they need.
One such place is the Scotchman Peaks. Idaho’s northern nine counties contain many roadless areas, but none are protected as wilderness. The Scotchman Peaks proposal is a poster child for an inclusive, collaborative effort to preserve certain areas as wilderness.
People from all walks of life, including hunters and anglers, local business owners, elected officials and outdoor recreation enthusiasts, have come together to craft a proposal that worked for everyone. The supporters also include Bonner County commissioners, the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce and the Idaho Forest Group.
The area is home to grizzly bears, bull trout, Canada lynx, wolverines, moose and our world famous mountain goats. People come to hike, camp, snowshoe, cross-country ski, hunt, fish, forage for wild foods and enjoy the solitude. Visitors travel here to experience all that northern Idaho has to offer, thanks to our outstanding wildlife and outdoor recreation opportunities. And with these visitors comes economic growth in the outdoor recreation, tourism and hospitality industries. In fact, outdoor recreation and forest products generate thousands of direct jobs in Idaho alone.
The Scotchman Peaks and other public lands don’t just draw visitors; they also attract people who choose to move and build their lives here. More and more we are seeing businesses opt to locate near places where their employees have access to the great outdoors. These growing communities spur more economic opportunities for grocery stores, libraries, health care providers and more. In fact, several studies have shown a strong link between protected public lands and diverse, vibrant Western economies.
Public lands like the Scotchman Peaks is one reason why I chose to make Bonner County my home. Today, I have hunting dogs and still hunt pheasants like I did with my dad. The Scotchman Peaks take your breath away. One only needs to hike and see the beautiful views to understand why this special place needs to be protected. In short, this area brings people together.
I want to thank Sen. Risch for listening to his constituents and introducing the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness Act. I urge Congress to pass this common-sense bill.
Bob Boeh is vice president of government affairs for the Idaho Forest Group.
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