In comments submitted to the Salmon-Challis National Forest, the Blaine County commissioners stated that they “disagree with the notion that there is ‘enough’ wilderness in the Salmon-Challis National Forest already and therefore no more areas should be recommended.”

As part of the process of revising its management plan, the forest is now undergoing the “evaluation” phase of wilderness recommendations. The purpose of that phase is to determine which areas identified in the previous “inventory” phase have the characteristics for wilderness described in the Wilderness Act. A subsequent “analysis” phase will consider the impacts of recommending any of the evaluated areas for wilderness designation. The final phase will decide which areas, if any, to recommend to Congress for wilderness designation.

The forest is developing a draft plan this winter and expects to have a final plan completed by fall 2020.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, 30 percent of the Salmon-Challis National Forest is designated wilderness, in the Frank Church-River of No Return and Jim McClure-Jerry Peak wilderness areas. Twenty percent of Custer County and 16 percent of Lemhi County are in designated wilderness. Sixty-two percent of the Salmon-Challis forest is in the current wilderness evaluation areas.

“Our constituents feel exceptionally fortunate to have a national forest like the Salmon-Challis that has a disproportionally high percentage of remote, unroaded, and undeveloped lands compared with other national forests in the continental United States,” the Blaine County commissioners stated in their letter, dated Feb. 21. “These areas should be evaluated as potential wilderness on their individual merits, recognizing that this Forest does have a significant acreage of lands with nationally significant wilderness character.”

The commissioners mentioned the Pioneer Mountains and the Lost River Range, particularly the Borah Peak area, as wilderness-quality places often visited by Blaine County residents. They noted that those areas have been managed as wilderness under the existing forest plan. The west side of the Pioneers is in the Sawtooth National Forest and is also managed primarily as wilderness.

“To lose those particular areas to development would be a devastating loss,” the commissioners said.

The Forest Service has noted that the National Environmental Policy Act requires an analysis of local economies in the environmental impact statement for the revised management plan.

The comment period for the plan’s wilderness evaluation phase closed Feb. 28. As of Tuesday, the forest had received 826 public comments on its management plan revision process, which also includes recommendations for Wild and Scenic River designations.

Email the writer: gmoore@mtexpress.com

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