Guest Opinion re-printed from The Daily Bee – May 26, 2005
Why We Need Wilderness Designation For the Scotchman Peaks
Wilderness is a vital component of a balanced strategy for managing our public lands. Multiple use should recognize the highest value for each area. Just north of Clark Fork, Idaho, the west end of the Cabinet Mountains form a rugged backbone along the Idaho / Montana border. Steep and deep valleys hold pristine microcosms of wild native plants and animals, clear flowing streams and precious solitude. Known as the Scotchman Peaks, the highest value of this area is its wilderness quality.
Across the vast public lands of our region there are many rugged roadless areas. On the Idaho Panhandle none of these wild lands are protected as wilderness and in Western Montana only a small percentage of land holds such protection. Some of these lands must be set-aside as wilderness for ecosystem protection as well as economic benefit.
The Forest Service has managed the Scotchman Peaks area since 1987 for its wilderness values. Preserving the Scotchmans retains vital habitat for such threatened and endangered species as grizzly bear, mountain goat, lynx, and bull trout. Preserving this ecosystem also helps other species remain healthy. Hunters prize the large, trophy elk found in the Scotchmans, and everyone marvels at the moose. Preserving the Scotchmans provides a source of clean, clear water flowing into Lake Pend Oreille.
Preserving the Scotchmans makes sound ecosystem sense; it also makes good economic sense. The Scotchmans are not part of the current timber inventory, because extracting timber is far less economically viable in the Scotchmans than elsewhere. Mining has not yet proven to be a profitable activity. We are not against these uses of public land. We believe there is space sufficient for mining, timber, and motorized recreation in areas suitable for those purposes. Multiple use does not mean every use takes place in every area. Some uses are not mutually compatible. But there is a place for everything on our public lands. We believe that a comprehensive plan incorporating sustainable use concepts can allow public lands to provide for every need. We believe such a plan would set aside the Scotchmans as wilderness.
Preserving the Scotchmans would bring added economic value to surrounding communities. The Sonoran Institute has concluded that western counties with designated wilderness have the greatest economic vitality. Our resource-based economies are stagnant. Population growth and economic development in the west will depend on the “quality of life” of a community. Wilderness designation preserves a significant aspect of that quality of life.
Wilderness attracts people who telecommute, who relocate independent businesses, or who are looking for retirement or second homes. Such immigrants bring high levels of personal and investment income to our area’s economy. This leads to an increase in high-paying professional jobs, such as architectural, financial, business support and medical services. Surrounding communities will also benefit from the tourism that wilderness designation brings.
Preservation becomes even more important when faced with growth. Managing growth requires a comprehensive look at land allocation. Growth should not overwhelm or change those characteristics which drive that growth in the first place. Preserving the Scotchmans will ensure wilderness benefits for generations to come. We must let our elected and appointed officials know we want to put the Scotchmans to use for their highest value – wilderness.