Wilderness, what is it good for?

Posted on Thursday, March 16th, 2017
Julie Kallemeyn stands atop of Scotchman Peak with her dog Dex.

Julie Kallemeyn stands atop of Scotchman Peak with her dog Dex.

Friend and volunteer Julie Kallemeyn draws a comparison between the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in her home state of Minnesota and the Scotchman Peaks area in this beautifully written piece in support of wilderness.

Wilderness, what is it good for?

Growing up in Minnesota, our family’s cabin was our summer playground. And the 5 of us kids thrived.  We cherished public spaces for hunting, fishing, hiking, swimming. It was a good childhood.

Minnesota’s population went from 3.5 million in the mid-1960s when I was born to 5.45 million in 2014. And things changed a lot.

Minnesota is a big state, with considerable state and federal land. Something my husband and I noticed over the years when we visited favorite state and national forests and parks was that they were being affected by the increased number of users. ATVs and other off-road vehicles used in approved and non-approved areas degraded the trails, trash was becoming a problem on nearly every trail where we hiked, hunted, fished, boated or swam. We saw less wildlife.

One place that did not suffer the obvious signs of being loved to death was the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, the BWCA.  A four-hour drive from Minneapolis, it was established in 1964 as a wilderness area. Only a few lakes allow motorized boat traffic.  Today there are 250,000 visitors to this million plus acre road-less area. Ely, and Grand Marais, the closest towns, are popular vacation locations throughout the year, and enjoy sustainable, growing economies thanks to BWCA.

This special area has become for me a haven in a state that had grown and changed much.  Here we might see the plants and animals that had always lived in the state. Moose, wolves, black bears, lynx, bobcat, river otters, bald eagles, and even more common Minnesota wildlife are abundant. Here was an opportunity to experience quiet, to slow down. For me, the BWCA captures the essence of Northern Minnesota.

The state was fortunate to have it preserved at a time when a growing population sought areas to build more and more retirement homes and cabins.  So anyway, what does all this Minnesota history have to do with Wilderness and the Idaho Panhandle?

Nothing and everything. When I look at Scotchman Peak, I am reminded of my beloved BWCA.

With the ongoing influx of new residents from around the country, Idaho will likely be grappling with many of the same challenges Minnesota faced during the years I lived and worked there. While we may not be able to control changes affecting the nation and world, we can protect resources that define quality of life in Northern Idaho. I believe wilderness areas, which are so different from state and national forests, state parks, and ski areas, are essential resources.

Last summer I had the opportunity to hike to the summit of Scotchman Peak with my dog Dex.  I accompanied one of last summer’s Goat Ambassadors, with her dog too. With an ascent of 3,700 feet, it was for me the essence of the Idaho panhandle.  It was a daylong hike — sometimes easy, sometimes difficult – passing through a series of complex ecosystems as we gained elevation. Signs of Idaho’s native and iconic wildlife abounded and we were treated to several Mountain Goats when we reached the summit.  I just can’t imagine the panhandle without this special place, only minimally affected by humans yet just a short drive from Clark Fork and Sandpoint.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 (which protected the BWCA) and the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness Act, recently introduced last Congress by our own Sen. Jim Risch will combine to preserve the Scotchman Peaks for our families and our future.  Both the Idaho Panhandle National Forest service and Idaho Fish and Game will have to take a harder look at the impact of their decisions and activities but both agencies will continue their mandates to manage the land and to manage wildlife populations. Careful considerations of impacts will ensure that this natural landscape will long endure with the abundant hunting and fishing opportunities it provides.

Julie Kallemeyn

Sagle, Idaho

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