The Scotchman Peaks – A Place of Common Ground
By Phil Hough
Driving across the long bridge for the first time 10 years ago a feeling of awe swept over me. I knew that I had found home. Every time I cross the long bridge, or drive the highway to Hope and the Scotchmans, I am still inspired. Whether a first time visitor or lifetime resident, the natural setting here brings most of us to a strong connection and care for the landscape. We cherish lake views, green hillsides and prominent peaks; they connect us. A love for our natural landscape is a common value shared by a vast majority of our community.
There are always challenges when land management issues or legislation is being considered. But in seeking support for the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness (FSPW) has found a great deal of common ground in our communities.
Among the fundamental beliefs that FSPW holds is that management of our public lands can, and should, be balanced. We believe there is sufficient and appropriate space for responsible mining, timber, and motorized recreation. We are not against these uses of public land, in the appropriate time and place. We also believe that protecting landscapes with Wilderness characteristics is important. During the last 6 years of public presentations and conversations it’s clear that the vast majority of the public agree.
Multiple use does not mean every use takes place in every area. Some uses are not mutually compatible. So we must find the appropriate places for each use. The Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness believe that the highest value of the Scotchman Peaks is found in preserving its wilderness quality.
The numerous endorsements we have received, as well as the 3,700 plus supporters (over 1,400 in Bonner County) that have signed up as “friends” show broad consensus in our community for protecting the Scotchman Peaks.
Many understand that protecting the Scotchmans makes sound ecological sense as well as good economic sense. In the area proposed by the forest service as wilderness for the Scotchman Peaks extracting timber is not economically viable and no economically recoverable mineral deposits are found. Designating Wilderness for the Scotchmans would have no negative impact on timber or mining jobs. Folks from these industries understand this and look elsewhere for landscapes to provide timber and mining resources.
Where conflict exists between conserving and developing natural resources, it’s on those margins where the roads meet the backcountry, where natural resources are valued for both conservation and timber production. These areas are not found in the Scotchman Peaks. There are encouraging developments in collaboration between timber industry and conservationists in these areas and conflict there is being gradually replaced by consensus. But confusing this conflict with the Scotchmans does two disservices: it ignores the consensus support for the Scotchmans and it does not address how to resolve the issues on other landscapes.
Preserving the Scotchmans would bring added economic value to surrounding communities. The Sonoran Institute concludes that western counties with designated wilderness have the greatest economic vitality. We are no longer “heavily dependent on natural resources extraction”. While this was true at one time, timber’s economic impact is now around well under 20% and stagnant. Still, timber is an important part of a healthy and diverse local economy and part of our heritage. It may rebound as the economy rebounds and as other conflicts are settled.
Increasingly new jobs in our area are coming from other sectors. Quest, Encoder, Lighthouse, Coldwater Creek and my favorites – the Pend d’Oreille Winery and Laughing Dog Brewery, have all developed in our area because this is where people want to live and recreate. North Idaho attracts people who telecommute or who are retiring or buying second homes. Such folks bring high levels of personal and investment income to our area’s economy, leading to high-paying professional jobs, such as architectural, financial, business support and medical services. Wilderness designation would also benefit tourism; our natural landscape is personified in being named “Most Beautiful Small town in America.”
The Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce recognized the importance of preserving landscapes last June when they wrote in a letter of endorsement: “We strongly believed one of the best ways we can build a future of prosperity is to help protect the natural resources and beauty of our area and all it has to offer….the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce supports the Scotchman Peaks as a wilderness area to ensure our public lands continue to offer the quality of life our community desires while protecting its unique qualities for future generations ”
The simple fact is that conserving part of our natural landscape is good for business, good for our environment and good for ourselves, keeping us connected to our community and to our landscape.
The Rotary Club of Sandpoint aptly noted in a recent letter of support: “Our members, indeed, most of the citizens of Sandpoint, have a direct and close relationship with this land, a quality that works quietly inside us to allow the “better angels of our nature” to have full voice. We are continually inspired and fulfilled by the mountains here, even if we don?t realize it?s happening. What would we be like without them?”
The natural resources and beauty of the area are why we live here. I am reminded of that every time I drive across the long bridge.