The recently passed legislation designating the Owyhees as Wilderness and the Jobs and Forest Act, currently introduced by Senator Jon Tester which would designate over 600,000 acres of wilderness in Montana, both came about as a result of community discussions and collaboration among stakeholders. While not the only pathway forward, collaboration has been one way in which the cause of Wilderness has recently been advanced. Consensus and compromise, whether resulting from collaboration or other processes, have always been at the foundation of Wilderness legislation.
As we touched on a few days ago, fresh off his success with the Owyhees, Senator Crapo has begun a collaborative process for looking at land management options on the Clearwater. Now, freshman Congressman Walt Minnick has looked further north and brought together various stakeholders with an interest in the Bonner and Boundary County portions of the Idaho Panhandle Forest. Both members of congress have as a goal the development of consensus around potential legislation which would, among other things, designate more new wilderness for Idaho.
On Monday, Congressman Walt Minnick held an organizing meeting with about a dozen stakeholders in lands management issues. This “Panhandle Collaborative” is cautiously forming, but there is room for hope and opportunity. While some people are always afraid of what they might “loose” in a collaboration, a truly successful result would not be so much a compromise between competing visions, but rather would create a proposal that would add value to all interests. Sure, a minimal amount of sacrifice and compromise may be needed, but the end result could be far better for all interests than the status quo. The pathway, timeline and end results of this newly forming collaborative effort are uncertain, but the prospects are enticing.
We have seen broad and strong public support in Bonner County for designating Wilderness in the Scotchmans, so including the Scotchmans in lands legislation whether as a “stand alone” area or part of a larger package is not likely to be controversial. The Scotchmans are such a small part of the landscape that action on a Scotchmans only bill may be delayed indefinitely while congress is consumed with other priorities.
Congressman like to solve problems – it gives them credence as leaders. So, putting together a package of land management questions has a certain political appeal. The success of this current Panhandle collaborative effort will depend more on how effectively the stakeholder group addresses and settles other controversies and takes advantage of other opportunities to create a compelling package. If this collaboration succeeds in a relatively short time frame, then the Scotchmans would likely move forward more quickly than if we were to wait for everything to align for a stand alone bill.
But, what does this mean for the Montana portion of the Scotchman, which after all belong to two states? Check back in a couple days for more thoughts on that!