County opposes wilderness plans

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SANDPOINT — Bonner County commissioners are urging the U.S. Forest Service not to designate any more lands as wilderness in the Idaho Panhandle and Kootenai national forests.

The board’s position is something of a departure from previous commissions, which have over the years mostly supported the establishment of proposed Scotchman Peaks wilderness in northern Idaho and western Montana.

“All the commissioners recognize that Scotchman Peak is an area that needs to be protected. We just don’t agree that it has to have a wilderness designation,” said Commissioner Mike Nielsen.

Nielsen said the designation will thwart all types of access to the forest and isolate adjacent areas where trails are groomed for snowmobile riders.

“There’s a multitude of designations that the Forest Service can provide to protect an area,” he said, referring to primitive and backcountry designations.

Nielsen said the county likely would not object to a congressional wilderness designation, but harbors concerns that the less stringent designations would create de facto wilderness areas due to their attendant use and access restrictions.

Phil Hough, executive director of Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, said he is not daunted by the board’s position and notes that there is a current of support for the proposal within the mixed message to the Forest Service.

“We appreciate the support that the commissioners have shown over years and their continued support for the Scotchmans,” Hough said.

The commission’s position on Scotchman and other designations come as the Forest Service weighs a plan to guide management of the two national forests for the next decade. The recommendations floated up from the county’s Natural Resources Committee, which generally advocates against any designations which would hinder timber production, grazing or forest access.

A portion of the Selkirk Crest in Boundary County is slated for a primitive designation, which is apparently drawing opposition at least one conservation group that wants it designated wilderness.

However, the group did not respond to a request for its comments to the Forest Service on the proposed forest plan designations.

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