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LibbyMt.com > News > March 2009 > Wilderness advocates seek support from county

Kootenai Valley Record. Photo by Kootenai Valley Record.
Kootenai Valley Record
Wilderness advocates seek support from county
by Brent Shrum, Kootenai Valley Record
March 6, 2009

Wilderness advocates met last week with the Lincoln County commissioners to seek support for a proposal to extend permanent protection to the 88,000-acre Scotchman Peaks area along the Montana-Idaho state line.

"We’re still working on our mission, which is to get wilderness designation for the Scotchman Peaks area," said Charlie Clough of Friends of Scotchman Peaks.

The proposed wilderness area includes about 30,000 acres in southwest Lincoln County. The remainder is located in Sanders County and in Idaho.

With no apparent conflicts with timber or mining interests, the group is trying to get more people "on board" to support the plan and avoid polarizing the community, Clough said.

"We’ve been there, done that and we absolutely don’t want to do that again," he said.

The sole point of contention over wilderness designation for the Scotchman Peaks seems to be with a small group of "extreme snowmobilers" intent on accessing one particular basin that’s already off-limits to their machines, said Bill Martin.

"There’s maybe a couple of dozen of them," he said. "We’ve got 2,000 people and growing on our list of supporters."

At issue is winter habitat for mountain goats. Goat specialists believe snowmobiling in the animals’ winter range subjects the animals to unnecessary stress that can negatively impact populations.

"This is the one bona fide issue where there is a legitimate controversy," Doug Ferrell told the commissioners.

Although Friends of Scotchman Peaks is working with area snowmobilers to find additional access in other areas, wilderness designation won’t change the fact that the Scotchman Peaks area is already closed to snowmobiles and is likely to remain so, Ferrell said.

"Every indication that we have is that snowmobiling in goat winter range is not going to happen," he said.

Likewise, wilderness designation will have "zero effect" on timber availability, because the area is already designated by the Forest Service as unsuitable for timber production, Ferrell said.

Declaring the area a wilderness would have "no practical downside" but would be "highly valued by the conservation community," Ferrell said.

While noting that many Lincoln County residents have traditionally been opposed to the designation of additional wilderness areas, Commissioner John Konzen acknowledged that it may be time to take another look at the issue.

"There’s people digging up a 1991 vote that this county had and not recognizing that times have changed and things have moved forward," he said.

Editor’s Note: See the March 3, 2009 edition of the Kootenai Valley Record for the printed version of this story. The Kootenai Valley Record publishes once a week, now on Tuesday, in Libby, Montana. They are a locally owned community newspaper, located at 403 Mineral Avenue in Libby. For in-county and out-of-county subscription information, call 406-293-2424, or e-mail kvrecord@gmail.com.

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