Why Wilderness

You only have to look at wilderness to understand why it’s worth saving. The natural beauty of rugged, untamed mountains, forests and waterways is one of America’s greatest assets. It’s a gift passed down to us from our parents and grandparents. And it’s one we need to give our kids and grandkids. 

But that’s only part of the reason why wilderness matters. Wilderness offers unparalleled solitude and an escape from the busy modern world. It has proven health benefits with opportunities for hiking, hunting, fishing and mental restoration. Untouched wilderness also protects the water resources, native plants and animals and cultural resources within them.

What is a wilderness area? 

It is public land protected under the 1964 National Wilderness Preservation System. 

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

1964 Wilderness Act

Wilderness brings the highest level of protection available for public lands and their natural landscape. These are places where nature operates on its own with almost zero disturbance. There are no roads, no motors or mechanical devices, or development of any kind. The core idea behind Wilderness is placing value on our country’s wildest places precisely because they’re wild.

Sportsmen will tell you that wilderness areas are often the very best places to hunt and fish — because elk, deer, and fish don’t like to be disturbed either. You can camp, climb, hike, and paddle in wilderness. There is a spiritual concept as well — preserving places where people can go to find solitude and escape the noise of civilization.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a collection of questions we are most frequently asked about deisgnating the Scotchman Peks as a Wilderness area. If you have other questions, please email us at info@scotchmanpeaks.org.

Where is the area that would be designated as Wilderness?

The proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness is an 88,000-acre inventoried roadless area (IRA) straddling the Idaho-Montana state line. It is bordered by the Clark Fork River and Highway 200 on the south, the Bull River and Highway 56 on the east, Rattle Pass Road on the north and Lightning Creek on the west.

Who owns these lands?

The Scotchman Peaks are owned by the American people and managed by the U.S. Forest Service. This would not be a transfer of lands from one entity to another.

How is Wilderness designated?

The Forest Service can identify places deserving Wilderness protection, but only Congress can make it permanent by passing legislation that then must be signed into law by the President. Since any future changes would require congressional approval, this process assures an intent for permanent preservation.

How were the boundaries chosen for recommended Wilderness?

The recommended wilderness boundaries are a result of several extensive public processes, dating back to the Roadless Area Review and Evaluation (RARE) of the 1970s. Through RARE I and RARE II in the 1970s, the 1987 Forest Plan, 2009 Idaho Roadless Rule, and the 2015 Forest Plan, the boundaries were gradually shaped and refined by public input.

How has the public been involved in this wilderness proposal?

The public review processes from RARE I and II, the 1987 forest plan, Idaho Roadless rule and 2002-2015 revised forest plan period included hundreds of meetings and field trips in locations accessible to all interested parties. Written comments were submitted by thousands of local residents.

Isn’t there enough designated Wilderness in Idaho and Montana already?

There are no designated wilderness areas in Idaho’s nine northern counties. The Idaho portion of the proposed wilderness would designate 13,900 acres of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests as wilderness, only one half of one percent of the forest as a whole (2.3 million acres). There is only one designated Wilderness area in western Montana, although there are vast areas of unprotected wild lands suitable for designation.

Can formerly logged areas be designated as Wilderness?

Yes. Lands that have been logged are eligible for Wilderness designation if the affected areas are naturally reverting.

Are there roads in the Scotchmans that Wilderness designation would close?

No. There are no roads in the Forest Service inventory of open or closed roads, motorized trails, or snowmobiling areas within the area proposed for wilderness.

Why Wilderness?

Current growth trends and future technological development could pose many threats that are hard to predict today. Areas recommended for wilderness designation by forest plans are administrative decisions, subject to shifting boundaries and reclassification as forest plans change. Wilderness designation will preserve the pristine character of this area in its natural state for our future and our children’s future.

What benefits would Wilderness designation bring?

Wilderness brings the highest level of protection available for public lands and their natural landscape. These are places where nature operates on its own with almost zero disturbance. There are no roads, no motors or mechanical devices, or development of any kind. The core idea behind Wilderness is placing value on our country’s wildest places precisely because they’re wild. Sportsmen will tell you that wilderness areas are often the very best places to hunt and fish — because elk, deer, and fish don’t like to be disturbed either. You can camp, climb, hike, and paddle in wilderness. There is a spiritual concept as well — preserving places where people can go to find solitude and escape the noise of civilization.

What are the threats if the area is not designated as Wilderness?

The Scotchman Peaks enjoy broad support for Wilderness designation partly because there are no logging or mining activities or proposals for such and not much opportunity within the area. That may be the case today, but threats to the area could emerge in five, ten, 20 or more years. Protecting the area as Wilderness will ensure that future generations will enjoy the area the way that we do today.

What is the economic impact of Wilderness designation?

Multiple studies by Headwaters Economics and others have concluded that protected federal public lands like Wilderness areas can be an important economic asset. Wilderness preserves the “quality of life” upon which most economic growth in Western counties is currently based. People want to live close to protected lands because they want to be able to enjoy all these lands have to offer, and they know that these lands will be around for their future enjoyment because they are protected. Western counties with protected public land support above average rates of job growth, exceeding that of counties with no protected lands. Headwaters Economics has also found that there are higher levels of per capita income in places where there is more protected public land. (Protected Lands and Economics, 2016).

What would change from proposed wilderness to designated Wilderness?

The Forest Service has managed the Scotchmans area as ‘recommended wilderness’ since 1987. There would be little change in on-the-ground management between the current recommended wilderness and designated Wilderness. The main difference is that with designated Wilderness, management will be more durable over time and better assure preservation of the area’s wilderness character. All traditional uses of this area — hiking, hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, photography and berry picking — will be preserved by Wilderness designation.

Will I be able to hunt and fish in the Scotchman Peaks after designation?

Yes. Idaho Fish and Game and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks would still manage wildlife on public lands in their respective states.

Speaking of animals, what animals live in the Scotchmans?

The Scotchmans are home to many threatened, endangered and sensitive species including grizzly bear, mountain goat, bull trout, west slope cutthroat trout, Canada lynx, wolf, and wolverine. It’s also an important habitat for many other animals including big horn sheep, white tail and mule deer, moose, elk, black bear, coyote, bobcat, cougar, martin, ermine, snowshoe hare and dozens of bird species, both large and small.

Will the Forest Service be able to control fire, insects, and disease?

Yes. Section 4(d) of the Wilderness Act states that “such measures may be taken as necessary in the control of fires, insects and diseases” within wilderness.

Will the area be closed to off-road vehicles, snowmobiles and mountain bikes?

Yes, although access to the proposed wilderness will not change. The USFS already prohibits the use of motorized and mechanized vehicles within the area proposed for wilderness.

Does the proposal affect search and rescue operations?

No. Helicopters have landed in the Scotchman Peaks several times in recent years for health and safety purposes. Wilderness designation would not stop the use of mechanical means for rescue. Section 4(c)(1) of the Wilderness Act of 1964 allows search and rescue officials to use motorized vehicles and aircraft in “emergencies involving the health and safety of persons within the area.”

Are wheel chairs allowed in wilderness?

Yes. Section 508(c) of the Americans with Disabilities Act “reaffirms that nothing in the Wilderness Act prohibits wheelchair use in a wilderness area by an individual whose disability requires its use.”

Is Grazing allowed in Wilderness?

Yes. Section 4(d)(4) of the Wilderness Act allows existing grazing operations to continue when a wilderness area is established. However, there are currently no grazing operations in the Scotchman Peaks.

How will trails be maintained?

Long-term trail maintenance and other stewardship activities will be conducted in large part as they are today, by volunteers. The Friend of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness are committed to training a dedicated group of volunteers about the use of traditional tools and methods such as crosscut saws, pulaskis and hand-work for trail maintenance.

How diverse is the support for the Scotchman Peaks proposal? 

The proposal has been endorsed by a local mountain biking club, The Ponderay Pedalers; Idaho Forest Group; hunting and fishing clubs; chambers of commerce; many civic organizations; several local newspapers and over 7,000 “Friends” from all walks of life and political persuasions.

Share this Page