In attempting to begin a mid-weekly blog about Scotchman’s Peaks Wilderness stewardship activities, in the tradition of my predecessor, it is readily apparent that selecting one day of the week to write consistently will be a struggle. I am sitting in the middle of the floor. Maps, guide books, text books, technical equipment, and backcountry survival gear surround me. With all the trips I have planned into the Scotchman’s over the next two months, I plan to become very intimate with this wilderness, very soon.
So I hope you will join me for this research blog, and forgive me when a certain Thursday rolls around and no blogging appears because I am still out swinging from huckleberry bushes and pushing my toes into rocks and roots and praying I am keeping my bearing as I push forward to some ultimate destination.
Because there is a lot to write about all the activities we are engaging in the wilderness right now! The National Forest Foundation (NFF) has selected the Lightening Creek Drainage Complex ( which contains portions of proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness area) as one of only 14 “Treasured Landscapes” sites across the country. These Treasured Landscape sites have been identified as having a high value for restoration due to their uniqueness, pristine nature, critical ecological functioning, and potential for community involvement in the project. Examples of other natural areas chosen by the NFF include mesas and bluffs in Arizona, wild and scenic rivers in Oregon, tall grass prairies in Illinois, and delicate sand pine scrub forests in Florida. The value and beauty of the landscapes in our Idaho Panhandle National Forests, as well as the devotion of our home communities to the conservation of these rugged and bountiful lands, has been publicly underscored with this new designation.
Lightening Creek adopted its name from its tendency to flash flood. Its steep orientation on the landscape, between the glacially carved Cabinet Mountains and the Clark Fork River and greater Lake Pend Orielle, lies in a climate of heavy precipitation, approaching 30″ annually. Historically, the creek has illustrated a 100-year flood cycle, but global warming conditions may be currently accelerating this trend. In 2006, severe flooding disturbed the environment, destroying recreational trails, exposing ground to invasive species, and altering stream channeling. Emergency management efforts to protect the residents of Clark Fork, ID, where Lightening Creek joins the Clark Fork River as it feathers into braided channels feeding Lake Pend Orielle, may have created even more dangerous flooding conditions. The removal of large downed woody debris from Lightening Creek, initially thought to protect property owners from these loose, unstable materials in the stream, will likely accelerate flooding devastation in the future by increasing the velocity of the stream flow. In addition, woody debris the stream channels contributes to healthy riparian habitat, providing micro-environments to fish, amphibians, and all those other little critters who work together in the interplay of sustainable ecosystem functioning.
Watershed headwaters are also critical to this sustainability, and the project’s restoration activities plan to address these remarkable sub-alpine and timberline environments as well. Efforts are focusing on a keystone species found at high elevations: a quiet, humble, but strong and persistant benefactor whose presence stabilizes precipitation runoff to drainage headwaters and soil erosion in these areas of early soil development; whose presence feeds, warms and shelters wildlife species including magestic yet viably threatened grizzly bears and the beloved Clark’s nutcracker; whose presence protects and inspires generations of backcountry and alpine enthusiaists and recreaters. Without uttering a syllable, Pinus albiculis gently enables these ecosystems to thirive. More details about this charitable actor to come.
For now, let’s suffice it to say that a reconnaissance mission is underway. Thanks to devoted, supportive, and dedicated friends to the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness area, we have assembled, trained and organized several backcountry search parties. And now preparations are underway to hit dirt (and bedrock, and muck, and tallus…) to find and identify relatives of the kingdom Plantae and their palace homes. Throughout June, we have signed up and trained nearly 20 volunteers and partners who will participate in Phase One of the botanical needs for the Treasured Landscape restoration. This initial phase will focus on identifying areas of invasive species encroachment on washed out and disrupted recreational trails along Lightening Creek’s tributaries, as well as identify areas in sub-alpine environments that are consistent with favorable whitebark pine habitat. And just because we can, we’ll snoop around for rare plants, too! Thank you so much to everyone who has participated and assisted so far! And as you prepare to venture out on your assignments, good luck to you!
For those of you whom I have not yet met, my name is Kristen Nowicki, and I am serving the wilderness as the Projects Director for Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness. I am honored to be here.
And I’d love to meet you and talk ecology! Visit our 323 1st Ave, Second Floor Suites office downtown Sandpoint, Tuesday through Friday 10am to 2pm, and come say hello!