SANDPOINT — Bonner County commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday calling on Congress to designate the Idaho portion of the Scotchman Peaks area as wilderness.
The resolution states that the Scotchman Peaks area provides outstanding vistas and recreation opportunities for residents and viewers. It also contributes to the economic vitality of the region and provides habitat for a diverse array of native flora and fauna, the resolution said.
The resolution is striking because it was adopted by a conservative commission which generally opposes wilderness designation.
“The message we’re trying to send is Scotchman Peaks is the exception to the rule,” commission Chairman Cary Kelly said.
Commissioner Todd Sudick said he has concerns about wilderness designations in Idaho and managing lands as wilderness without a congressional designation.
“I’m opposed to that. I’m also opposed to any further designations of wilderness areas in Bonner County at this time, but I do support Scotchman Peak,” Sudick said.
Commissioner Glen Bailey said he has the same concerns and is also a proponent of managing national forest lands to accommodate timber harvest and mining, in addition to recreational pursuits.
However, Bailey also threw his support behind the Scotchman proposal.
“Scotchman Peak is beautiful and it’s something I would like to see protected and preserved for our families, for our children, for all of us to enjoy,” said Bailey.
Bailey and Kelly ascended the Scotchman Peak summit last October as a show of support for the wilderness proposal. The 7,009-foot peak is the highest point in Bonner County.
Scotchman Peaks supporters were grateful for the commission’s resolution.
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“We don’t have any designated wilderness in the nine northern counties of Idaho so this is going to be something very special for us here,” said Carol Jenkins.
Molly O’Reilly said the commission’s farsightedness is a good move for Bonner County because it will attract people to the area to explore or possibly even relocate.
“When they see a wilderness (designation), they’ll know, as Glen said, we are in an exceptionally wonderful area,” she said. “I don’t think you’re restricting anything else and I don’t think you’re sending a negative message to anybody by having wilderness.”
Brad Smith of the Idaho Conservation League emphasized that that Scotchman Peaks has a base of support that is as large as it is varied.
“Designating the area as wilderness would not change any of the current access. There’s no motorized trails or areas in this area,” Smith added.
Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness executive director Phil Hough was heartened by the commission’s call for congressional action.
“It’s a really important milestone. It’s reflective of the strong community support and we believe that step will be taken seriously by the delegation when they consider their options,” Hough said after Tuesday’s meeting.