Spokesman Review Guest Opinion

Posted on Wednesday, November 8th, 2006

(Reprinted from the Spokesman Review)

Scotchman Peaks Another Good Save

Doug Scott , Author of “Enduring Wilderness”
Campaign for America’s Wilderness
November 8, 2006

There are now 300 million of us, each striving for a share in the American dream. For me, a central part of that dream is the idea of wilderness – the idea that we can still have, in this increasingly crowded, noisy world, large samples of America’s original wilderness landscapes. Wild bastions of quiet, solitude and nature such as the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness just east of Sandpoint.

I was thinking of the challenge of our growing population as I read, again, a Spokesman-Review column I’ve kept in my files for 27 years. Outdoor editor Rich Landers did a masterful job debunking the many myths about wilderness preservation that some folks use as excuses for opposing protection for places like Scotchman Peaks. He quoted Washington’s then-Gov. Dixy Lee Ray, telling a news conference that “before you people make up your minds (on wilderness), you’d better realize what you can do in a wilderness area.”

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Fair enough, but then Gov. Ray wandered off into the land of mythology, saying of our wilderness areas: “Can you camp? No. Can you hunt? No. Can you fish? No. Can you even go there? Only with great difficulty.” And she was dead wrong on every point.

You can camp in wilderness areas. Tens of thousands of us do so every year, seeking the spiritual refreshment one finds in these wild sanctuaries of nature. I have fond memories of my two very young daughters thrilled to be so embraced in the natural world on our wilderness camping trips.

You can hunt in wilderness areas. Sportsmen’s groups like the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and growing numbers of individual hunters strongly support protecting wilderness areas, knowing that here they can have the highest quality hunting experience, testing their skills and reliving this aspect of the frontier life that was experienced by our forebears. And, of course, many species thrive best in protected wilderness habitat.

You can fish in wilderness areas. Nothing protects our blue ribbon trout streams better than this highest form of protection of the wild watersheds that guarantee cool, clean, clear streams. This is why groups like Trout Unlimited, Montana Trout, and the Izaak Walton League of America favor wilderness protection.

But even in debunking these hoary old myths, generally spread by those with an ulterior motive to destroy wilderness on their way to short-term profits, we should consider the more profound reasons for preserving our wild places. We preserve wilderness areas for more than simply their values for recreational adventures. Even preservation advocates can fall into the trap of thinking the only users of wilderness areas are those with boots and backpacks setting off for a strenuous week of adventure. But there are also the young families whose wilderness adventure is a few hours of picnicking and birdwatching a short distance from the end of the road, parents introducing their children to nature in its wildest glories.

Many others of us prize our wilderness areas from a distance, through the kitchen window or when a wild, unspoiled mountainside adds its special charm to a car trip. Across our country today, smart communities are more active than ever in preserving the landscapes that surround them. Open space, accessible trails, good hunting and birding areas may not be measured easily in dollars and cents, but they are vital to the quality of community life.

Finally, in-depth polling by U.S. Forest Service researchers shows that the American people overwhelmingly support protecting wilderness as a moral obligation to future generations. Think of it: all the unspoiled glories of the original American earth that our grandchildren’s grandchildren will ever know are those places that we, in our generation, have the wisdom to preserve.

Thanks to the 1964 Wilderness Act, only Congress may designate federal lands as wilderness. This means the decision on a proposal like that of Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness ( www.scotchmanpeaks.org) will largely be in the hands of the congressional delegations of Idaho and Montana. No area gets designated by Congress without thorough public hearings. And no area gets designated without the signature of the president — like President Bush’s signature last month on the law that protects 275,000 acres of fabulous wild places in coastal northern California.

And there is some happy news in this time of such partisanship: Congress and the president are working across party lines to help preserve treasures of our wild public lands. I know a lot of Inland Empire residents who hope to see this same outcome for the citizen wilderness proposal for Scotchman Peaks.

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