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Idaho won’t get its 16th wilderness area after voters reject proposal

Mountain goats often greet hikers at the top of Scotchman Peak, a popular destination in the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness north of Lake Pend Oreille.
Mountain goats often greet hikers at the top of Scotchman Peak, a popular destination in the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness north of Lake Pend Oreille. The Spokesman-Review

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch proposed legislation in 2016 to create the Scotchman Peaks wilderness area in North Idaho — an idea he said came from the community.

On Tuesday, voters in Bonner County said they don't want the wilderness designation — and Risch and other elected officials have said they'll follow the recommendation of the non-binding vote. The vote was 5,672 against and 4,831 in favor.

That likely derails the effort to preserve 13,961 Idaho acres.

“When Bonner County residents went to the polls yesterday, they had the opportunity to decide whether or not 13,960-acres in Idaho should be designated as the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness area,” Risch said in a written statement. “Definitively, the community rejected this proposal. In a recent editorial, I wrote that I would honor the outcome of this election, regardless of the decision, and I intend to do so. I will not reintroduce the Scotchman Peaks legislation. I thank those who have been involved in educating the community on the proposal, and I applaud the Bonner County Commissioners for bringing the proposal to me and allowing Idahoans to voice their opinion on this important issue.”

“One of the fallacies that has been repeated over and over again … is that the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness project had overwhelming support in Bonner County,” Bonner County Commissioner Dan McDonald told The Spokesman-Review before the election.

The area was first recommended for wilderness designation in 1970, according to the Spokesman-Review. The U.S. Forest Service designated 88,000 acres in Idaho and Montana as roadless area in 1979.

According to the Spokesman-Review:

"Prior to the bill’s introduction there seemed to be widespread support for the designation. During a 1987 review of the roadless area designation, more than 6,100 comments were submitted. Of those, 75 percent favored a wilderness designation.

"After Risch introduced the wilderness legislation, he held a series of open houses in Hope and Clark Fork, Idaho. More than 600 people attended, according to Risch’s article in the Sandpoint Reader."

“Overwhelmingly, I was told people were ready to see the proposal advance,” Risch wrote.

Idaho already has 15 wilderness areas. The state has the third-most wilderness acres in the U.S. behind Alaska and California.

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