Stewardship: The Sincerest Form of Advocacy
Rare forest carnivores, such as wolverines, pine marten, fishers, ermine and lynx are some of the most iconic creatures of wilderness. In the western U.S. , these rare animals are widely dispersed in high altitude, remote areas. Little wonder that the animals may be threatened by climate change.
Scotchman Peaks is an 88,000 acre roadless area in the Idaho Panhandle and Kootenai National Forests of Idaho and Montana, with many of the characteristics of rare carnivore habitat. When Idaho Fish and Game decided to conduct a rare forest carnivore study there, they turned to Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness (FSPW) for help.
The Friends group didn’t hesitate to get involved in this important stewardship work, which lasted from From 2010-2014.
“Stewardship is the sincerest form of advocacy, “notes Phil Hough, Executive Director of FSPW, whose mission is, in part to win wilderness designation for the area. “We combine advocacy with education, outreach and stewardship to protect this special place. It’s a winning strategy.”
During the project, FSPW set up carnivore monitoring stations. Stewards strapped on skis or snowshoes and bundled carrion to backcountry “stations” where they set bait to draw wolverines, martens and fishers to the photographic stations.
Other stewards visited the backcountry stations to retrieve photographic data. Still others sorted through hundreds of thousands of images, adding them to the data record. The data is now being analyzed by the Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game.
“For those of us who love wilderness, it’s a pleasure to get outdoors and have something useful to do in the winter months,” laughs Hough.
The first years of the study have established that there is a resident population of fishers in the Scotchman Peaks area on the border of Idaho/Montana.
As a result of these findings, conservation easements have been secured on 28,000 acres of private land, expanding protections for habitat beyond USFS lands.
Friends of Scotchman Peaks has engaged more than 200 unique volunteers in this project so far, and has increased community involvement while raising awareness of the importance of wilderness and proper land management to wildlife conservation. Currently, the data the volunteers gathered is being evaluated by Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
The range of stewardship the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness group has undertaken is striking:
Trail maintenance with the Forest Service; citizen science wildlife and habitat studies; natural resource education; white pine monitoring and replanting; winter travel planning; contributing to federal forest management plans and to state wildlife management policies. The group partners with such diverse constituencies as motorized groups, mining companies, scientists, policy makers and youth.
“Part of everything we do with stewardship helps to break down barriers, including the mythology about what volunteers can or can’t do,” explains Hough. “Putting people into the landscape is critically important to counter the argument that newly designated wilderness is too hard to maintain. Our stewards are doing the work.”