Monday, March 16, 2009

Montana Needs More Wilderness












A MONTANA STATEWIDE WILDERNESS BILL
George Wuerthner

Montana has some of the best spectacular unprotected wildlands left in the lower 48 states, but it lags behind other western states in the amount of land protected as designated wilderness. For instance, California has 138 wilderness areas, covering than 14.3 million acres—more than 14 percent of the state. When the Omnibus Public Lands Bill before Congress passes, California will get another 700,000 acres of new wilderness areas. By contrast, Montana only has 15 wildernesses covering 3.4 million acres, or slightly less than 3.7% percent of the state.

More than six million FS roadless acres, plus at least another million acres of BLM and FWS lands, could potentially be added to the National Wilderness System. Yet for a host of unfortunate circumstances, the state has failed to see any new wilderness legislation passed for several decades. To see a map of Montana’s roaded and roadless terrain go to http://www.wildmontana.org/resources/images/roads_lg.jpg

NREPA BEST LEGISLATION
The most comprehensive legislation dealing with Montana’s wildlands so far is the visionary Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act or NREPA. NEPRA was created by the Alliance for Wild Rockies, in part, after the failure of several other state-wide Montana wilderness bills to pass Congress or Presidential veto. It takes a comprehensive approach to wildlands preservation and includes most of the larger unprotected roadless lands in the Northern Rockies, including Montana. http://www.wildrockiesalliance.org/news/2009/02-11-09-PR.shtml

While NREPA is the best wilderness legislation to ever be introduced, Congress may not be ready for the best. There are many obstacles to enactment, the least of which is that supporters must either convince the Congressional delegations from Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon and Washington, many of whom are hostile or luke-warm to wilderness preservation, to support this bill or garner enough votes from other House and Senate members to overrule the opposition from these delegates. I’m convinced if NREPA were enthusiastically endorsed and actively promoted by the entire environmental community, it could be enacted. Unfortunately, that wide-spread support has yet to materialize.

A STATE-WIDE MONTANA WILDERNESS BILL?
An alternative to NREPA is a more piecemeal, state specific approach to wilderness designation that focuses on passage of a Montana-only wilderness bill. Recently, there is a convergence in opinion that a state-wide wilderness bill is needed that can implement at least a portion of the NREPA vision for Montana. With the election of Barack Obama the opportunity for passage of such a comprehensive state wide bill has never looked better than now.

WHAT WOULD A MONTANA WILDERNESS CONTAIN?
If I were creating such a bill, I would, at a minimum, propose the following areas for potential wilderness designation. My proposal is only a starting point for discussion.

In the interest of brevity many fine and worthy smaller wildlands areas will be left out of this compilation, but are included in NREPA, so if you want to see what could be protected in Montana, go to the Alliance for Wild Rockies web site. http://www.wildrockiesalliance.org/ The following is only the briefest description of key areas that should be included in any state- wide bill with a rough estimate of the potential acreage to give readers some idea of the size of each area. At one time or another I have personally visited most of the areas I’ve listed so know firsthand of their wildlands qualities.

NORTHWEST MONTANA
Northwest Montana includes the Purcell, Cabinet, and Coeur d’Alene Mountains. Heavily forested and relatively moist, the easily accessible timber has been logged, but many small roadless areas remain. http://www.wildmontana.org/resources/maps/images/cabinet-yaak.jpg

Starting in the Northwest portion of the state, there are a number of small wilderness areas proposed for the Yaak drainage in what many consider to be the wildest river valley south of Canada. The Yaak is home to nearly all the species (except perhaps caribou) that existed at the time of settlement, including wolves, grizzlies, wolverine, and lynx.

Roadless areas of note in the Yaak include the 15,000 acre Northwest Peak Proposed Wilderness. It lies right up against the Canadian border, supporting alpine larch forests in glaciated bowls. Other proposed wildernesses in the Yaak include 36,000 acre Buckhorn Ridge, 14,000 acre Mount Henry, 7,000 acre Robinson Mountain, 7,000 acre Grizzly Peak, and 30,000 acre Roderick Mountain, among others. Taken together, designation of all of these roadless lands will provide a quilt of wildlands that could work to begin the ecological restoration process for the heavily logged Yaak drainage. http://www.wildmontana.org/resources/maps/images/cabinet-yaak.jpg

South of the Yaak lies the 94,000,000 acre forested, but rugged Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. The highest point is 8,723 foot Snowshoe Peak. The core of the Cabinet Mountains is protected as the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, but another 100,000 plus acres of additions could be added to the existing wilderness, primarily by adding lower elevation slopes to the wilderness to create a 200,000 acre or so complex.

Extending southward as part of the southern Cabinet Mountains north of Thompson Falls are several other roadless areas including the 39,000 acre Cube Iron Silcox and 39,000 acre Catarack Peak proposed wilderness areas. Vertical relief in this part of the southern Cabinet Mountains is more than 4,500 feet.

Directly across the Bull River to the west of the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness and straddling the Idaho-Montana border lies the 88,000 acre proposed Scotchman’s Peak Wilderness. Surprisingly, for this area where logging has fragmented so much of the lower elevation forests, the Scotchman’s Peak area has remained roadless from valley bottoms to the summit of its glacier-scoured peaks. Like the Cabinet Mountains, the Scotchman’s Peak area is heavily forested with low elevation Pacific Northwest species like western red cedar, and western hemlock, including the famous giant Ross Creek Cedars. Friends of Scotchman’s Peak has worked for decades promoting this area. http://www.scotchmanpeaks.org/

A few other large roadless areas on the Coeur d’Alene-Cabinet Divide south of the Clark Fork River worth mentioning are the 50,000 acre Trout Creek Proposed Wilderness and the 41,000 acre Mount Bushnell Proposed Wilderness. These both are important for corridors linking the Cabinet-Yaak to the Bitterroot Mountains.

BITTERROOT DIVIDE COMPLEX
The Bitterroot Mountains stretch along the Idaho Montana border for hundreds of miles. The highest peaks are included in the 1.3 million acre Selway Bitterroot Wilderness, but other lovely wild country along or near the Bitterroot Divide and adjacent lands should be included in any state wide wilderness bill. http://www.wildmontana.org/resources/maps/images/bitterroot.jpg

Along the Idaho border south of I-90 is the 68,000 Sheep Mountain/State Line Proposed Wilderness. More than 70 inches of precipitation, most of it as snowfall, supports forest of mountain hemlock, a rare species in Montana. An essential corridor for wildlife moving north and south from the Cabinet to the Bitterroot, the area features some small lakes, and heavy forest cover.

Moving south along the Idaho border, south of Superior, Montana, in the Fish Creek headwaters lies the 275,000 acre Great Burn Proposed Wilderness. Straddling the northern Bitterroot Mountains along the Idaho-Montana border, the Great Burn is named for the 1910 fires that swept across these slopes leaving alpine-like terrain dotted with snags. However, the lower elevation valleys still harbor some huge western red cedars. The lush vegetation and numerous cirque lakes make for scenic hiking. It is increasingly threatened by ORVers. http://www.newwest.net/index.php/main/article/7220/ The Great Burn has been included in many previous wilderness bills introduced into Congress, and hopefully will someday achieve wilderness protection.

South of Missoula is the Bitterroot Valley. Friends of the Bitterroot are one of the local wildlands advocacy groups romoting wilderness preservation on both sides of the Bitterroot Valley. Additions of 123,000 acres to the sprawling 1.3 million acre Selway Bitterroot Wilderness along the Bitterroot Front would bring the wildlands boundary down closer to the valley floor.

West and south of Darby on the Idaho-Montana border is the 70,000 Bluejoint Proposed Wilderness. Most of the Bluejoint drainage was burned by wildfire and is reforested with even-aged lodgepole pine forests. It is one of the wilderness study areas protected by S.393, passed in the 1970s by the late Senator Lee Metcalf and includes several geologic features including a volcanic plug at Castle Peak and Rock Arch near Jack the Ripper Creek.

Adjacent to the Bluejoint and encompassing the headwaters of the West Fork of the Bitterroot River along the Idaho-Montana border lies the 150,000 acre Allan Mountain Proposed Wilderness. (I’ve also seen this spelled Alan, Allen). Allan Mountain includes the spectacular 100 foot Overwhich Falls and provides a critical link between the Bitterroots and areas to the east in the Big Hole drainage.

UPPER CLARK FORK WILDLANDS
Rock Creek, a major tributary of the Clark Fork River, is a small blue ribbon trout stream east of Missoula. The stream is bordered on the west by the Sapphire Range, which includes the Welcome Creek Wilderness, the only designated wilderness in this range.

South of Welcome Creek in the Sapphire Range is the 103,000 acre Stony Mountain Proposed Wilderness including headwater tributaries to Rock Creek.

Continuing south of Skalkaho Pass in the Sapphire Range is another S.393 wilderness study area, the 116,000 acre Sapphire Mountain Proposed Wilderness. The highest point is 9,000 foot, Kent Peak. The Sapphire Mountain WSA is a critical link in the Sapphire/Rock Creek Wildlands corridor that leads to the Big Hole Valley further south. The Sapphire Mountain WSA is also immediately adjacent to the existing Anaconda Pintler Wilderness, and the combined acreage of 350,000 acres makes it the fourth largest continuous roadless area in Montana.

On the east side of the Rock Creek Valley lies the 77,000 acre Quigg Peak Proposed Wilderness, a circular patch of little visited non-descript forested country that rises 4,500 feet above Rock Creek.

Another major tributary of the Clark Fork is Flint Creek. The Flint Creek Range south of Deer Lodge and east of Phillipsburg contains glacier-scoured, 10,000 foot peaks, cirque lakes and a 60,000 acre proposed wilderness.

TRANS BOUNDARY FLATHEAD COMPLEX
Tucked up on the Canadian border west of Glacier National Park and east of Eureka are the rugged Whitefish and Galton Ranges which include a number of roadless areas, collectively totaling 171,000 acres. These areas are part of the proposed Winton Weydemeyer Wilderness. Weydemeyer was a long-time local wildlands advocate. Many ecologists consider the North Fork of the Flathead Valley to be one of the most biologically important areas in Montana, home to wolves, grizzlies, wolverine, lynx, elk, moose, and deer, plus some of the best bull trout spawning habitat in Montana.

Starting on the Canadian border is the 45,000 acre Ten Lakes Proposed Wilderness. The highest peaks rise to nearly 8,000 feet, and a number of sparkling lakes and lush flowery meadows dot the cirque basins. (I only count six lakes). Another S.393 protected area, the Ten Lakes area was included in the 1984 Montana Wilderness bill that President Reagan vetoed.

Immediately west and south of the Ten Lakes area lies the 126,000 acres North Fork Wildlands Complex, a series of roadless areas lying west of the North Fork of the Flathead River separated by a few logging roads. The North Fork Wildlands includes Mount Hefty/Mount Tuchuck, Mount Thompson Seton/Nasukoin Mountain. Great views of Glacier National Park’s rugged peaks are possible from many of the highest points in this proposed wilderness. http://www.wildmontana.org/campaigns/winton/index.php

Glacier National Park has nearly a million acres of wilderness quality lands. All of it should be designated as wilderness. I don’t think I need to discuss the attributes that makes Glacier an outstanding wildlands complex. The NPS essentially manages this as wilderness anyway, so designation of this area should be politically easy.


BOB MARSHALL COMPLEX

South of Glacier National Park is the 1.5 million acre Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, which includes the contiguous Great Bear and Scapegoat Wildernesses. The complex is Montana’s flagship wilderness area. Proposed additions to the Bob Marshall total more than 500,000 acres in three major blocks—Swan Range, Rocky Mountain Front, and the peaks bordering the Blackfoot Valley on the south. http://www.wildmontana.org/resources/maps/images/cont%20divide.jpg

Starting along the western border of the Bob Marshall, is the spectacular Swan Range which stretches nearly a 100 miles from Glacier National Park south to the Blackfoot Valley. The Swan forms the border of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, but much of the range lies outside of the wilderness boundary. The 89,000 acre Swan Crest takes in the Jewel Basin Hiking Area with its two dozen or so cirque lakes and other roadless lands lying at the headwaters of tributaries to the South Fork of the Flathead River. The 169,000 Swan Front Proposed Addition to the Bob Marshall Wilderness would take in the steep west face of the Swan Range, including 9,200 plus Swan Peak and 9,300 foot Holland Peak, as well as Lion Creek drainage with its giant western red cedars.

Making up the northern face of the Blackfoot River Valley along the southern edge of the Bob Marshall is the 90,000 Monture Creek Proposed Additions. Monture Creek, along with the North Fork of the Blackfoot, are among the best bull trout spawning streams left in the Blackfoot River drainage.

The eastern edge of the Bob Marshall consists of the Rocky Mountain Front where the mountains rise for 110 miles north to south abruptly and dramatically from the Great Plains. It is probably the premier unprotected wildlands in Montana. Ecologists have documented that approximately a third of all plant species found in Montana are known to grow here as well as 290 species of wildlife. During the Forest Service’s RARE11 inventory, some of the roadless lands on the Front had the highest wildlands ratings in the lower 48, comparable to some of the Forest Service lands in Alaska. Some of the larger roadless areas along the Front include Badger Two Medicine, Choteau Mountain, Teton High Peaks, Deep Creek, Renbshaw, and Falls Silver King. http://www.savethefront.org/index.php

CENTRAL MONTANA
Central Montana includes the communities of Lewistown, Butte , Great Falls and Helena. A number of isolated mountain ranges, as well as a diverse number of roadless lands along the Continental Divide provide linkages between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Bob Marshall/Glacier Ecosystem. http://www.wildmontana.org/resources/maps/images/cont%20divide.jpg

Along or near the Continental Divide are a number of proposed wildernesses. Most of these roadless areas consist of more gentle terrain of rolling mountains, open parks, and great wildlife habitat. Among the largest roadless areas are the 50,000 acre Nevada Mountain Proposed Wilderness, 50,000 acre Electric Peak Proposed Wilderness, and east of I-15 the 84,000 acre Whitetail-Hay stack Proposed Wilderness with its extensive wetlands.

Just south of Helena is the 88,000 Elkhorn Mountains Proposed Wilderness, home to one of the more productive elk herds in the state.

To the southeast of Helena in the Big Belt Mountains that harbor a series of small roadless areas like a string of beads. Anchoring it on the north is the 28,000 acre Gates of the Mountains Wilderness. Named by Lewis and Clark, the Gates signaled where the Missouri left the mountains. Additions to this area, including 10,000 acre Sleeping Giant and adjacent state Beartooth Wildlife Management Area, would make a 65,000 acre complex.

South of the Gates of the Mountains, the two largest roadless areas include 20,000 acre Camas Creek Proposed Wilderness which features Camas and Boulder lakes lakes, plus the 18,000 acre glaciated cirques of the Baldy Peak/Mt. Edith Proposed Wildernesses. http://www.wildmontana.org/resources/maps/images/island%20ranges.jpg

East of Great Falls is the isolated volcanic Highwood Mountains, that contains aspen-lined coulees and a patchwork of meadows and forest in a 40,000 acre proposed wilderness split by one road. Southeast of Great Falls are the Little Belt Mountains. There are many roadless aeas in this range that collectively total more than 450,000 acres. Three of the notable wildlands include the 43,000 acre Pilgrim Creek Proposed Wilderness, a prime hunting area with many open parks.

The center piece of the Little Belts is the 105,000 acre Tenderfoot/Deep Creek Proposed Wilderness encompassing the Smith River Canyon, a sixty mile float through wild country with magnificent limestone cliffs and excellent fishing.
The Little Belts are also the location of the rolling terrain that makes up the 92,000 acre Middle Fork of the Judith River Proposed Wilderness, another S.393 WSA, featuring dramatic limestone canyons.

The 105,000 acre Big Snowy Mountains Proposed Wilderness, south of Lewistown, is another S.393 area. The Big Snowy Mountains rises 3,000 feet above the surrounding plains and features an extensive above timberline plateau, and the singular beauty of aptly named Crystal Lake.

SOUTHWEST MONTANA WILDLANDS

Southwest Montana takes in Montana’s largest national forest—the sprawling 3.3 million acre Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest and the greatest acreage of unprotected roadless lands in the state. A number of conservation groups have proposed the Beaverhead Deerlodge Partnership which would guarantee access to 730,000 acres, including many roadless area of forest, for logging in exchange for timber industry support of wilderness. While the timber giveaway of the partnership is inappropriate, there are quite a number of wildlands on the BDNF worthy of wilderness protection in the proposal as well as a few not included in the agreement. Many of these wildlands form the headwaters of the famous Big Hole River. http://www.wildrockiesalliance.org/assets/nrepaMaps/beaverhead.jpg

Just south of Butte are three roadless areas that have important wildlands values.
The 12,000 acre Humbug Spires, 21,000 acre Highland Mountains, and 36,000 acre Fleecer Mountain proposed wilderness areas. The spires features many granite knobs that are a favorite for climbers while the Highlands feature flat-topped Table Mountain with expansive views. Finally, Fleecer Mountain is part of an important game range just north of the Big Hole River. http://www.wildrockiesalliance.org/assets/nrepaMaps/deerlodge.jpg

Starting in the north end of the Big Hole Valley is what has become known as the 50,000 acre North Big Hole proposed additions to the existing 158,000 acre Anaconda Pintler Wilderness which would expand significantly protection for the lower slopes of the range. This would secure some of the more productive lands in the valley, including the most important big game habitat.

Immediately south of Chief Joseph Pass along the Montana-Idaho border and on the north end of the Beaverhead Mountains is the 50,000 Anderson Peak Proposed Wilderness, a land of mostly rolling lodgepole covered hills.

South of Big Hole Pass are the rugged glaciated peaks and more than 30 cirque lakes of the 130,000 acre West Big Hole Proposed Wilderness, including 10,621 foot Homer Young Peak, the highest in the range.

East of Wisdom is the 240,000 roadless acres of the West Pioneer Mountains, one of Montana’s largest roadless areas and another S.393 wilderness study area. The rolling forested mountains of the West Pioneers Proposed Wilderness top out at 9,000 feet. This area has been greatly impacted by ORV intrusions in recent years.

Directly east and across the Wise River, are the 145,000 acre East Pioneer Mountains Proposed Wilderness. The East Pioneers are extremely rugged, with many cirque lakes and glaciated high peaks including 11, 154 foot Tweedy Mountain and 11,146 foot Torrey Mountain.

The 50,000 acre South Big Hole/Tash Peak Proposed Wilderness, as its name implies, takes in the high peaks at the south end of the Big Hole Valley, including 9,800 foot Bloody Dick Peak.

The 90,000 acre Italian Peak Proposed Wilderness is part of a larger nearly 300,000 acre chunk of roadless country straddling the Continental Divide on the Montana-Idaho border. The lonely, but rugged limestone peaks, including 10,998 Italian Peak reminds me of the Canadian Rockies. Other major peaks include 11,141 foot Eighteenmile Peak.

The arid 83,000 acre Tendoy Mountains Proposed Wilderness east of Dell, Montana, consists of open grass-sagebrush slopes rising to the top of 10,000 foot mountains with pockets of conifer and aspen. The open country is superb for cross country hiking and excellent hunting terrain.

The 42,000 acre Lima Peak/Mount Garfield Proposed Wilderness also straddles the Continental Divide, and includes 10,961 foot Mt. Garfield. This area features many aspen groves, along with patches of conifers intermixed with open grassy slopes that can be hiked for miles.

Several other small BLM roadless areas are also found in this region including 27,000 acres in the Ruby Range east of Dillon, 15,000 acres in the Blacktail Mountains southeast of Dillon, and 12,000 acres in the dry, open limestone summit of Henneberry Ridge area southwest of Dillon.

GREATER YELLOWSTONE
Surrounding Yellowstone National Park are some of the largest wildlands in the Rockies. http://www.wildmontana.org/resources/maps/images/greater%20yellow.jpg,

The centerpiece in Montana is the 920,000 acre Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness in Montana, which includes Montana’s highest summits such as 12,799 foot Granite Peak, and some of the most extensive alpine tundra in the lower 48 states. Starting near Gardiner and working around the edge of the existing wilderness significant proposed additions include Dome Mountain and Emigrant Peak, wintering habitat for thousands of elk that migrate from Yellowstone, the Paradise Face that provides the scenic backdrop for Paradise Valley, Shell Mountain, Mount Rae, and the Deer Creeks, a lower elevation unglaciated terrain between the Boulder and Stillwater Rivers, home to genetically pure cutthroat trout and as its name implies lots of deer. Nearer Red Lodge are the Beartooth Face and the 20,000 acre high-elevation alpine Line Creek Plateau. http://www.wildrockiesalliance.org/assets/nrepaMaps/gallatin.jpg

Lying north of the Yellowstone River by Livingston is the 140,000 acre Crazy Mountains Proposed Wilderness. The Crazies have 23 peaks over 10,000 feet with more than 7,000 feet rise from the Yellowstone River to the top of 11,214 Crazy Peak, rivaling the Tetons in total elevation gain. The wind- blasted glacier-carved summits have an Arctic look that makes them more like something in Alaska, especially in winter, when the snowy peaks are set against a cold winter sky.
Directly across the Shields Valley from the Crazy Mountains, and just outside of Bozeman, is the 42,000 acre Bridger Mountain Proposed Wilderness. The Bridgers are a critical link in the chain of roadless lands that leads from the Greater Yellowstone north to the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.

Marking the southwestern edge of the Gallatin Valley is the 96,000 acre Tobacco Root Mountains Proposed Wilderness. Extensively fragmented by old mining roads, the Tobacco Roots still harbor some small roadless areas. These glaciated mountains possess 28 peaks over 10,000 feet and dozens of small lakes and tarns.

To the southwest of Dillon and the headwaters of the Ruby River lies the wildly fe-filled 110,000 acre Snowcrest Range Proposed Wilderness. A long narrow range with a number of 10,000 plus peaks, the Snowcrest Range is a mixture of open grassy/sage slopes, pockets of aspen and conifers, topping out with tundra along the ridges and higher peaks. You mightee pronghorn as elk on the high slopes of this range. http://www.wildrockiesalliance.org/assets/nrepaMaps/beaverhead.jpg

The rolling Gravelly Range lies south of Virginia City and forms the western border of the Madison River Valley. It has some important elk and bighorn sheep habitat, but is severely compromised by heavy livestock grazing. There are four major roadless areas in this range including 39,000 acre Black Butte, 14,000 acre Lone Butte, 70,000 acres West Fork Madison and 53,000 acre Bighorn units. http://www.wildrockiesalliance.org/assets/nrepaMaps/beaverhead.jpg

Straddling the Continental Divide west of Henry’s Lake, Idaho, the 82,000 Centennial Mountains Proposed Wilderness is one of the few east-west running mountain masses in Montana, making it an important corridor and connector between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Central Idaho wildlands to the west. Directly below this range is the remote Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Most of the range on the Montana side of the border is managed by the BLM which has identified a 27,000 wilderness study area in the central portion of the range. Aspen is abundant here, and the valleys are surprisingly lush.

The 255,000 acre Lee Metcalf Wilderness near Big Sky honors the late Senator Lee Metcalf, one of Montana’s wilderness champions. Unfortunately, when the wilderness was created, several important areas were left out of the wilderness, including Cowboy’s Heaven proposed addition on the north, taking in Cherry Creek, a proposed westslope cutthroat trout restoration site.

The 32,000 acre Lionhead Proposed Wilderness straddles the Continental Divide and Idaho-Montana border just west of West Yellowstone, Montana. It is really the southern extension of the Madison which is largely protected as the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. The area features a number of 10,000 foot peaks. The Lionhead is an important corridor in the east-west movement of wildlife from Yellowstone to the various ranges in southwest Montana. Grizzlies, for instance, move from the Lionhead to the Gravelly and Centennial Ranges through this area. In recent years, snowmobiles have taken to riding to the top of Lionhead Peak, significantly compromising the solitude and wildlands qualities of this area.

The 200,000 acre Gallatin Range Proposed Wilderness is on Bozeman’s doorstep and extends southward into Yellowstone National Park where more than 325,000 additional acres of proposed wilderness are found. The Gallatin Range features many glaciated peaks exceeding 10,000 feet, and some of the best unprotected wildlife habitat in Montana.

The proposed wilderness is home to nearly every major large mammal found in Montana, including grizzly, wolf, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose, wolverine, lynx, marten, and even bison on occasion. The Gallatin Range contains many headwaters streams for two blue ribbon trout rivers—the Gallatin and Yellowstone. One hundred and fifty one thousand acres are tentatively protected by Congress as the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area in S. 393, but unfortunately, ORVs have established many new “routes” in the range. http://www.gallatinwilderness.org/help.html

South of Billings and lying in the rain shadow east of the lofty Beartooths is the Pryor Mountains, a mix of BLM, Forest Service and National Park Service and Indian Reservation lands. http://www.wildmontana.org/resources/maps/images/pryor%20mtns.jpg

A limestone northern extension of the Bighorn Mountains, the Pryors has several major roadless areas including Lost Water Canyon Proposed Wilderness, as well as four other roadless areas. In some areas, the narrow limestone canyons might make you think you were in southern Utah. Numerous caves provide habitat for ten species of bats including the spotted and Townsend's big eared bats, both candidates for listing under the ESA. The Pryors contains 10 distinct ecological systems which support a variety of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, black bears and mule deer, and more than 200 species of birds. Unfortunately the dry and fragile Pryor Mountain landscape is being torn apart by ORV use. http://pryormountains.org/vision2.html

GREAT PLAINS

Most of the private land in Montana is found on the Great Plains, but there are some patches of public lands, mostly managed by the BLM and FWS. So far only two small prairie wildernesses exist in Montana: 11,000 plus acre Medicine Lake Wilderness in extreme Northeast Montana, and 20,000 acre U Bend Wilderness along the shore of Fort Peck Reservoir. There are, however, many other areas that could be added to the prairie wildlands protection list. Here are three of the best.

Nearly on the Canadian border northwest of Glasgow, the 60,000 acre Bitter Creek Proposed Wilderness is one of the largest grassland roadless areas in the state. Past glaciations has left gently rolling terrain that invites long walks across an endless horizon. With a name like Bitter Creek, it’s not difficult to imagine why this part of the plains was never settled. http://www.montanabirdingtrail.org/maps/r2/t1/s1/r2t1s1.php

Another prairie BLM wildlands is the 50,000 acre Terry Badlands. The proposed wilderness borders the lower Yellowstone River near Terry, Montana. Water and wind have sculpted the soft sandstones in numerous buttes, pinnacles, and spires. One of the eastern most stands of limber pine is found growing on the rims. http://www.outdoorphotographer.com/columns/favorite-places/terry-badlands-montana.html

The largest prairie wildlands complex is found along the Missouri River in the Missouri Breaks National Monument and Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. The roadless areas are too numerous to name here, but as much as 400,000 acres may qualify as wilderness. All of this country consists of steep escapements and coulees bordering the Missouri River. http://www.wildmontana.org/programs/missouribreaks.php

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