I have been getting some questions about the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness Act introduced by Sen. Jim Risch back in December. Here are some of the most common questions about the proposed wilderness designation and my answers.

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

Yes. The state of Idaho will maintain its jurisdiction over hunting and fishing regulations. Section 4(c) of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness Act also gives wildlife managers the latitude to implement wildlife restoration projects within the proposed wilderness.

Will the U.S. Forest Service be able to fight fires?

Section 5 of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness Act allows the Forest Service to “take such measures within the wilderness area as determined to be necessary for the control of fire, insects, and disease.”

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

Access to the proposed wilderness would not change. The forest plan for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests (IPNF) prohibits the use of motorized and mechanized vehicles within the area proposed for wilderness.

What about search and rescue operations?

Section 4(c) 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.”

How were the boundaries decided?

Between 2002 and 2015, the Forest Service undertook an extensive public process to update the agency’s forest plan for the IPNF. The boundaries for the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness are a result of numerous public meetings (more than 110) held during that time as well as thousands of written comments that the agency received.

If nothing is going to change, then why designate the area as wilderness?

Without wilderness designation, there is no future guarantee that the Scotchman Peaks will continue to be enjoyed the way they are today. The Upper Pack River in the nearby Selkirk Mountains is a local example of how administration of national forest lands can change without the certainty of wilderness designation. The 1987 Forest Plan recommended wilderness designation for the Upper Pack River. When the IPNF revised its forest plan in 2015, the Forest Service withdrew its recommendation for wilderness in the Upper Pack River. The new plan allows snowmobiling in that area instead.

When will Congress act on the bill?

The Scotchman Peaks Wilderness Act was introduced late in the 114th Congress. Sen. Risch introduced the bill in order to give North Idahoans an opportunity to review the legislation, review the boundaries and provide input. The version of the bill introduced in December is by no means a finished product. In fact, with the beginning of a new session of Congress, the bill would have to be reintroduced before it could be taken up by the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee. We anticipate that the senator will give the public time to review the bill and provide input before he decides to act on it.

It’s important that we keep the momentum going-that we keep this issue in front of our elected officials.  Contact me to learn how you can help protect this special part of North Idaho.