Voters in Bonner County sent federal officials a message in Tuesday’s election: Don’t designate Scotch Peaks a wilderness area.
Bonner County commissioners decided to ask voters what they felt about the proposed wilderness area. Voters rejected the plan, 4831 to 5672.
Although the vote in nonbinding, several officials have said they would abide by how Bonner County voters advise them.
The debate about the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness area, and what should or shouldn’t be done with it, isn’t new. For more than a decade, the Friends of the Scotchman Peaks group has built support in Idaho and Montana. Roughly 48,000 acres of the proposed wilderness area are in Montana. Phil Hough, executive director of Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, said the group has built support among conservatives and liberals alike.
The area was first recommended for wilderness designation in 1970. The U. S. Forest Service designated the 88,000 acres in Idaho and Montana as a roadless area in 1979.
That culminated with U.S. Sen. Jim Risch introducing wilderness designation legislation in December 2016.
Prior to the bill’s introduction there seemed to be widespread support for the designation.
After Risch introduced the wilderness legislation, he held a series of open houses in Hope and Clark Fork, Idaho. More than 600 people attended, according to Risch’s article in the Sandpoint Reader.
“Overwhelmingly, I was told people were ready to see the proposal advance,” he wrote.
But Bonner County Commissioner Dan McDonald opposed the designation because he said it would lock up a big chunk of land for only a few users and prevent forest management.