After being embroiled in politics for over 33 years as a public servant, 11 of that as the district ranger at Sandpoint, I rarely have the desire to enter that fray again. However, after reading letters to the editor and opinions in the Daily Bee for the past several months, I have decided to wade in on the issue. I was trained as a scientist and try not to influence people with emotional rhetoric or by taking a little bit of information and twisting it to fit a political agenda. Making informed decisions based on factual information today is a challenge. That said, here is how I view the facts.
The area under consideration has been considered special for its natural beauty since before the land was proclaimed a national forest by Teddy Roosevelt at the turn of the last century. It has received very little active management because of this, and its remote and steep landforms. By active management, I mean things like road building, logging, and mining. However, multitudes of people have enjoyed it for hiking, hunting, fishing, and camping.
In 1987, the first Forest Plan for the Idaho Panhandle National Forest was finalized after extensive public involvement throughout northern Idaho and comments from all over the country. In that Forest Plan, the area known as Scotchman Peaks recommended wilderness was described after careful comparison of factors used in all wilderness designations from the 1964 Wilderness Act. The outline of the area closely resembles the recommended area today. You can find this map in the 1987 Forest Plan, as well as in the new 2015 Forest Plan at local district offices, local libraries, and online. You will not find this area on Forest Travel Plan Maps or Forest Visitor Maps. Travel Plan maps (given free at Forest Service offices) show restrictions of motorized vehicles that in effect protect recommended wilderness areas. Management prescriptions (how to do things) were developed to manage this area (this is important) so as not to preclude it from congressional designation. For example, logging and road building were prohibited in Scotchman Peaks because it would preclude wilderness designation.
Law requires that National Forest Land Management Plans be revised every 15 or so years. So in 2000 the revision process started again. This time even more extensive public involvement was required than in 1987. I personally led over 35 public meetings in the Sandpoint area, some of them were field trips, from 2003 to 2004. I had many discussions with members of the public on this topic until I retired in 2011. Many scores of other meetings were held throughout the IPNF and Kootenai National Forest discussing all aspects of land management, including wilderness designation. We attempted, with much success, to bring as many people as possible to these meetings. We utilized all types of media, such as use of newspapers, radio, posters, letters to large mailing lists, and word of mouth to ensure everyone had an opportunity to be part of the process.
Reflecting back, I never saw an elected official from D.C. at one of my meetings; however, several of our state and local elected officials, such as county commissioners and congressional staffers, attended many meetings. Meetings in our area were held at least once, sometimes twice a month, and more during the summer from 2002-2004. Some of the meetings attendance well exceeded 100 people and were attended by a diverse group of people with an array of interests and concerns from all over Bonner County, including Clark Fork, Heron, Mont., and a few from Kootenai and Boundary counties. We attempted to use work groups to build as much consensus as possible, with many of the same members of the public attending all of the meetings. I remember broad support for the Scotchman Peaks area to be managed as wilderness.
Since that time, the Forest Service continued to collect public comments and joined in a collaborative group aimed at building consensus on projects to be implemented on the three northern districts of the IPNF. Finally in 2016, a new Forest Plan was finalized. Thousands of public comments were analyzed and the Plan was developed, based on consensus as much as possible. Once again the area known as Scotchman Peaks was determined to be suitable for wilderness and had public support after analyzing thousands of comments and results of literally hundreds of meetings across the forest. Throughout this time to present, the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, a large local non-profit grassroots organization, has gone through tireless extensive collaboration with other groups and members of the public to try and build understanding, acceptance, and support for wilderness designation for this area. They have met with snowmobile clubs in Idaho, as well as in Libby and other areas in western Montana. I admire this group since few groups come to the Forest Service with volunteers and secure grants to help extend the Forest Service’s limited dollars to maintain trails, gather research, and help with public education on issues like mountain goat conflicts.
There has been much rhetoric on what you will not be able to do when it becomes wilderness. You will be able to do what you have been doing for the last 100 years, if you are that old, with some modifications. I will not go into detail on this but will comment on the Code of Federal Regulations, 36CFR261. This is an often misinterpreted regulation. These regulations give the Forest Service authority to enact restrictions throughout the lands they manage to protect resources and the public. My personal experience is not extensive as there are over 765 wilderness areas nationwide, but I have hunted, fished, and hiked in about a dozen of them, mostly out West. I am not aware of any wilderness areas closed to hunting or fishing. In fact, the only place I have seen this CFR used to prohibit shooting is in the area immediately around the Forest Service office and homes, such as the Priest Lake Ranger Station (makes sense) and Forest Service campgrounds (also makes sense). A friend of mine who has worked on the Angeles National Forest gave me an example that I never see happening here. Although hunting is still allowed on most of the Angeles Forest, the proximity of 18 million local residents from metropolitan Los Angeles and presence of gang activity finally necessitated a restriction on target shooting on the forest, not just in wilderness areas using 36CFR261. These changes are never made casually by a bureaucrat’s stroke of a pen; generally after much analysis, discussion, and public comment. Fortunately, the city of Sandpoint prevents the shooting of firearms in Sandpoint proper. Common sense usually prevails, not a government conspiracy theory.
The IPNF currently has 11,950 acres of designated wilderness, the Salmo-Priest, of which all is in the state of Washington. Sen. Jim Risch’s bill for Scotchman Peaks would add 13,900 acres to wilderness on the IPNF, which would be in Idaho. The addition of the Idaho portion would raise the amount of wilderness on the IPNF in Idaho to about 0.5 percent. Please understand that the IPNF manages moderate acreages of land in Washington and Montana as well. Senator Risch’s bill proposes designation only in Idaho.
Be informed, be involved, make your own decisions, and give your support if that is what you decide. If you missed this expansive, well-attended public involvement process I assume it was your choice. Check your facts. Still confused, call your local district ranger. Your buddy over coffee may not be a reliable source.
Dick Kramer is a retired district ranger for the Sandpoint Ranger District.