Council opposes wilderness plan

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The Clark Fork City Council unanimously voted this week against a federal wilderness designation for Scotchman Peaks. (Courtesy photo)

CLARK FORK — The city council is unanimously objecting to a federal wilderness designation for Scotchman Peaks.

The council is notifying U.S. Sen. Jim Risch that it is coming out against a wilderness designation because it was never brought into the discussion and public meetings weren’t held in the Clark Fork area to discuss the proposal. The council also contends support for the designation has been overstated by Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.

“We also feel the designation to wilderness is an overreach to future generations who will use this area and for this, we recommend against this designation or, at least, to minimize the acreage of wilderness and recommend returning surrounding areas to multiple use management,” the council said in a letter to Risch it drafted on Tuesday.

Risch introduced legislation last December which aimed to designate approximately 13,900 acres of the Cabinet Mountains in Idaho as a wilderness area. Friends of Scotchman Peaks is advocating for an adjoining 48,000 acres in Montana to be designated wilderness.

Bonner County commissioners adopted a resolution in 2015 which recommended a wilderness designation for Scotchman Peaks.

Friends of Scotchman Peaks has emphasized that the designation enjoys broad, diverse support in the community, but Clark Fork Mayor Russ Schenck said that was shown not to be case when the group hosted a well-attended meeting in Clark Fork in January.

“That proved totally wrong,” Schenck said on Thursday.

Supporters of the designation turned out in force, but so did scores of other residents from around Bonner County who objected to making permanent the motorized-use prohibitions that are already in place through a proposed wilderness designation, which also caught people off guard.

Schenck believes theme of broad support was used to induce commissioners to adopt the resolution, which in turn persuaded Risch to float the legislation.

“He based his information on what commissioners sent to him,” said Schenck.

County Commissioner Dan McDonald, who was not on the board when the resolution was adopted, has raised concerns about vastness and the permanency of the proposal. McDonald has also noted the amount of push-back the wilderness designation has been receiving lately.

On Thursday, McDonald met with officials from Friends of Scotchman Peaks, the Idaho Department of Fish & Game, Risch’s office and some members of the public to discuss the proposal.

“We are exploring a compromise to the existing plan and designation with the hope to find some middle ground between the current proposal and the sizable opposition to that proposal,” McDonald said after the meeting.

Friends of Scotchman, meanwhile, has launched a petition drive through its website to demonstrate the degree of support for a wilderness designation. County officials have also broached the idea of conducting a public vote to determine the level of support in Bonner County.

Phil Hough, executive director of Friends of Scotchman Peaks, said there is demonstrable support for the wilderness designation, something which critical elected officials are declining to publicly acknowledge.

“There’s a greater amount of support for Scotchman Peaks in Clark Fork than this letter would recognize,” Hough said on Thursday.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

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