The announcement by Montana Sen. Jon Tester that he would be introducing legislation to protect approximately 80,000 acres in the Blackfoot Clearwater area adjacent to the Bob Marshall Wilderness is to be commended. I have personally hiked all the areas included in this legislation and can attest to its important to the ecological integrity of the larger Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.
The Monture drainage with its wonderful larch forests that glow golden in the autumn, and the North Fork of the Blackfoot with its deep emerald pools holding exceptional bull trout and cutthroat trout populations are both critical gateways to the larger Bob Marshall complex.
The Grizzly Basin portion of the Swan is the critical scenic backdrop to the Seeley-Swan highway and the West Fork of the Clearwater segment is a needed wildlands connection corridor between the Mission Mountains and Swan Range.
What Tester, and those supporting the legislation, recognize is that Montana’s wildlands are of global significance. These patches of self-willed landscapes are critical to ensuring the continued survival of many wildlife species, carbon storage, watershed protection, and the source for inspiration.
Numerous studies document that protecting wildlands creates engines for our economy. Wildlands preservation makes nearby communities attractive to footloose businesses and people bringing jobs, and new ideas that revitalize societies.
Wilderness designation is an expression of self-discipline, and a recognition that we share the world with more than ourselves. This is one of the great gifts of wildlands preservation.
Montana has so many fine unprotected wildlands that choosing among them is difficult, but here is a representative few that hopefully future legislation will address.
Scotchman’s Peak: Located on the Idaho-Montana border, this rugged portion of the Cabinet Mountains features dense forests including some of Montana’s largest cedar trees in the Ross Creek drainage. Recently the Idaho delegation has expressed support for wilderness on the Idaho side of the border – we could do well to protect the Montana portion.
Great Burn: Named for the aftermath of the 1910 burn which charred more than 3 million acres of Montana and Idaho, the 250,000 acre roadless lands that comprise the Great Burn along the Idaho-Montana border features a fire-induced lowered timberline, extensive alpine flower meadows and numerous jewel-like lakes while the valley bottoms skipped by the fires hold surprisingly large old growth cedar.
North Fork Flathead Wildlands: There are more than 150,000 acres of wild country in the northern Whitefish Range just south of Canada and across from Glacier National Park. The Ten Peaks, Mount Hefty, Thompson-Seton, Tuchuck roadless areas provide some of the best habitat for grizzly bears in the lower 48 states, and streams running from these wildlands are among the most important spawning grounds for bull trout in Montana.
West Pioneers: Virtually unknown outside of the Big Hole Valley where it is located, the West Pioneers Roadless Area at 240,000 acres contains one of the largest unprotected lands in Montana. Rolling forested terrain punctuated by large meadows, the West Pioneers are a critical watershed for the famous Big Hole River.
Italian Peaks: The 250,000-acre plus roadless area (partially in Idaho) on the Continental Divide along the Idaho-Montana border resembles the rugged Canadian Rockies. Open grasslands studded with wildflowers makes off trail exploitation easy. Italian Peaks, along with adjacent Lima Peaks and West Big Hole proposed wilderness areas, provides a key migration linkage between the expansive Central Idaho wildlands and Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Gallatin Range: The 260,000-acre Gallatin Range roadless area, stretching south from Bozeman, is the last major spokes of unprotected landscapes bordering Yellowstone National Park. Home to wolverine, grizzlies, bighorn sheep, elk, and perhaps someday wild bison herds, the Gallatin Range is one of Montana’s finest unprotected landscapes.
Big Snowy Mountains: Rising out of the Central Montana grasslands south of Lewistown, the Big Snowy Mountains consists of a high alpine plateau with numerous glaciated valleys radiating outward. On a clear day, the view from the top of 8,681 foot Greathouse Peak stretches from Canada to Yellowstone.
Crazy Mountains: These mountains north of Livingston rise directly from the Great Plains more than 7,000 feet, as dramatic and abruptly as the Tetons. With rugged lake-filled cirques, the Crazies are a visional delight.
Deep Creek-Tenderfoot Little Belt Mountains: There are several large roadless areas in the Little Belt Mountains east of Great Falls which includes the dramatic limestone cliffs that wall in the famous Smith River.
Pryor Mountains: The limestone ridges of the Pryor Mountains south of Billings are part of a larger wildlands complex including Bighorn Canyon NRA that hosts desert-like landscapes that rise to alpine plateaus.