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The Year of the (Mountain) Goat 

It's time to protect the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness

click to enlarge CALEB WALSH ILLUSTRATION
  • Caleb Walsh illustration

Last Thursday, Feb. 19, was Chinese New Year and so began the Year of the Goat. According to my research (i.e., the first couple of websites that showed up on a quick Google search, particularly chinahighlights.com), people born in this year are said to strongly prefer working in groups and is it particularly important for them to "get out among nature and commune with the great outdoors."

Stretching across the border of North Idaho and Montana exists exactly the kind of place that if you were born in the Year of the Goat (i.e., 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003) you might want to explore: the Scotchman Peaks.

click to enlarge reuter.jpg

The Scotchman Peaks include the highest point in Bonner County, Idaho, at 7,009 feet and offer the best panoramic views of Lake Pend Oreille. They include 88,000 acres of roadless, wild country — where generations of local people, including this columnist, have enjoyed hiking, snowshoeing, fishing, hunting and camping. The area offers key habitat for grizzly bear, deer, elk, trout, wolverines and, perhaps most important, mountain goats.

The unofficial mascot of the area is a mountain goat by the name of Mr. Scotchman. Mountain goats are a common sight at the top of Scotchman Peak. They are majestic creatures who have sure footing on the mountain's steep, often icy cliffs. These bearded, two-horned beasts can only be found in North America, but are as wild and special as anything that can be found on the most remote African safari.

For more than a decade, the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness have been working to protect this area. They just surpassed 5,000 members, and out of those there must be at least a few people who were born in the Year of the Goat. In fact, if my cursory Internet research is correct, a few have to be in leadership positions, because clearly the Friends thrive working as a group and care deeply about the outdoors.

It's a good thing they exist and are growing, because the Scotchman Peaks have no guarantee of continued protection. Even though they represent some of the best of the wild lands left in America, Congress has not yet declared them a Wilderness Area. It's time for that to change.

The Forest Service recently adopted a revised Land Management Plan for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, which included a recommendation for a wilderness designation for the Scotchman Peaks. This move was supported not only by conservationists, but logging and mining companies and local leaders across the political spectrum. It's that obvious that this area deserves protection, and with the new management plan, now is the time to act.

Go and check out this special area for yourself (find more information how to get there at scotchmanpeaks.org). Climb to the top of Scotchman Peak and look out over those 88,000 acres. Then write your U.S. representatives and senators and call on them to protect it.

Let's make this the Year of the Mountain Goat and secure this wild area for generations to come. It's time to declare the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness. ♦

John T. Reuter, a former Sandpoint City Councilman, is the executive director of Conservation Voters for Idaho. He has been active in protecting Idaho's environment, expanding LGBT rights and the Idaho Republican Party.

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