SANDPOINT — Bonner County commissioners formally approved a plan Tuesday to check the voting public’s pulse on a proposal to designate Scotchman Peaks a wilderness area.
The commission voted 3-0 to place the designation question on ballots when voters head to the polls in the May 15 primary election.
The ballot question will simply ask voters if they are in favor of or are opposed to U.S. Sen. Jim Risch’s proposal to designate more than 13,960 aces in Bonner County as wilderness.
Commission Chairman Glen Bailey said the ballot question language was meant to be simple and clear. Commissioner Dan McDonald said the question’s clarity and brevity was no accident.
“We did not let our attorneys look at it,” McDonald cracked.
Commissioners voted last month to place the question on the ballot amid an emerging debate over whether it’s the best use of the land and the degree of support behind the designation.
The proposal has enjoyed nearly unanimous regard for more than a decade because of the remote and rugged terrain, which offers expansive vistas of Lake Pend Oreille and the surrounding Cabinet Mountains. Friends of Scotchman Peaks has found resource industry support because the topography is too challenging to effectively log.
But opposition to the proposal has grown more vocal over the past year, with critics contending that public support for the designation has been oversold, which led Risch to introduce designation legislation. Friends of Scotchman Peak, meanwhile, has said its support is solid and quantifiable even without a vote.
The vote is non-binding, although commissioners have said it could influence their continued political support of the project. Bailey and Commissioner Jeff Connolly have supported the designation, while McDonald has not.
Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness Executive Director Phil Hough was not fazed by the advisory vote and said it provides another way for the public to show they are behind the proposal.
“This is another opportunity for supporters to demonstrate the broad public support for a Scotchman Peaks wilderness in Bonner County,” Hough said after the board’s meeting.
Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.