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Groups push forth support of Scotchman Peaks protection

by Western News
| March 10, 2009 12:00 AM

A proposal to protect the high country of the Kootenai and Idaho Panhandle national forests has garnered support from Montana hunting and angling groups, a good sign for those who have pushed wilderness designation for the area in recent years.

The Libby Rod & Gun Club, the Bull Lake Rod & Gun Club, the Montana Wildlife Federation and the Montana chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers have all voiced support for a conservation proposal for the Scotchman Peaks and West Cabinets along the Idaho-Montana border.

The hunters and anglers say protecting Scotchman Peaks and surrounding habitat will help protect access to the region’s world-class hunting and fishing.

“In Lincoln County, hunting and fishing isn’t just what we do, it’s who we are,” said Don Clark, retired Libby educator and longtime member of the Libby Rod & Gun Club. “We want to make sure our kids and grandkids always have the same access to world-class hunting and fishing we enjoy today.”

The Scotchman Peaks-West Cabinets proposed wilderness area is west of Montana Highway 56, southwest of Bull Lake and north of Noxon.

“The rugged, remote character of this area is well-known to our members, as this area is literally in our front yard,” said Robert Weber, president of the Bull Lake Rod & Gun Club. “The decision to include this area in the national wilderness system is a ‘no-brainer’ due to the rugged, remote terrain, inherent beauty and pristine wildlife habitat.”

The support came after the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness group gave a presentation recently to Lincoln County Commissioners, pointing out that wilderness designation would not change the way the 88,000 acres is currently used and would only preserve it for future use.

 “The reality is that nothing will change,” one of the members said at the meeting. “There is no downside to this, and it’s very important to the conservation community.”

The group also told commissioners that the area has zero acres of usable timber and no mining opportunities.

Commissioner John Konzen encouraged members to continue seeking the community’s backing because Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester have indicated to Konzen over the years that they will only support wilderness designation if there is a consensus in the community.

The proposal would protect big-game habitat, including high country favored by mountain goats, trophy mule deer and big bull elk, Clark said. High basin waters flow from the West Cabinets into the Bull River Valley, an area known for its scenic beauty and its camping and fishing opportunities.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologist Gayle Joslin has pointed out that the West Cabinets are one of the last strongholds for mountain goats in the Kootenai National Forest. Besides hunting and fishing, the region is popular for hiking, cross-country skiing and other family outdoor recreation.

On the Net: Scotchman Peaks Wilderness site: www.scotchmanpeaks.org .