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.
To catch up with our neighbors, Montana’s delegation should abandon the piecemeal approach and recognize that passing a statewide wilderness bill is far overdue.
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.
Right now, the Forest Service controls more than six million roadless acres in Montana’s national forests. In addition, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manage hundreds of thousands more, all of which could potentially be added to the National Wilderness Preservation System.
Yet, for a host of unfortunate circumstances, the state has failed to see any new wilderness legislation passed for several decades. (For a map of Montana’s roaded and roadless terrain, click here.)
NREPA Is Our Best Option
The most comprehensive legislation dealing with Montana’s wildlands so far is the visionary Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA). The Alliance for Wild Rockies created NEPRA, in part, after the failure of several other statewide Montana wilderness bills to pass Congress or get a Presidential veto. NREPA takes a comprehensive approach to wildlands preservation and includes most of the larger unprotected roadless lands in the Northern Rockies, including Montana. (Click here for more details.)
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.
Also, some pro-wilderness groups do not support NREPA. I’m convinced if NREPA were enthusiastically endorsed and actively promoted by the entire environmental community, it could be enacted. Unfortunately, that widespread support has yet to materialize.
A Statewide Montana Wilderness Bill?
An alternative to NREPA is a state-specific approach to wilderness designation that focuses on passage of a Montana-only wilderness bill. Recently, there is a convergence in opinion that we need a statewide wilderness bill 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 statewide Montana Bill 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, I’ve left out many worthy smaller wildlands, included in NREPA, out of the following list, so if you want to see all the Montana wildlands that really could–and should–be protected, go to the Alliance for Wild Rockies website. http://www.wildrockiesalliance.org/
The following list only names the region and area. Click on the name of the area for more details such as size, location and amenities found in of each specific wildland.
At one time or another I have personally visited most of the areas, so I know they should become wilderness.
Northwest Peak, Buckhorn Ridge, Mount Henry, Robinson Mountain, Roderick Mountain, Cube Iron Silcox, Catarack Peak, Scotchman’s Peak, Trout Creek, Mount Bushnell, and additions to the existing Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.
Bitterroot Divide Complex
Sheep Mountain/State Line, Great Burn, Bluejoint, Allan Mountain, and additions to the existing Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.
Upper Clark Fork Wildlands
Sapphire Mountains, Stoney Mountain, Quigg Peak, Flint Creek Ridge, and additions to the existing Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness.
Trans-Boundary Flathead Complex
Ten Lakes, and the North Fork Wildlands, (also known as Winton Weydemeyer),
Bob Marshall Complex
Swan Crest, Swan Front, Monture Creek, Rocky Mountain Front, and other additions to the existing Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Nevada Mountain, Electric Peak, Whitetail-Hay Stack, Elkhorn Mountains, Camas Creek, Baldy Peak/Mount Edith, Highwood, Pilgrim Creek, Tenderfoot/Deep Creek, Big Snowy Mountains, Middle Fork of the Judith River, Sleeping Giant, Beartooth Wildlife Management Area, and additions to the existing Gates of the Mountains Wilderness.
Southwest Montana Wildlands
Humbug Spires, Highland Mountains, Fleecer Mountain, Anderson Peak, East Pioneers, West Pioneers, South Big Hole/Tash Peak, Italian Peaks, Tendoy Mountains, Lima Peak/Mount Garfield, Ruby Range, Blacktail Mountains, Henneberrry Ridge, West Big Hole, and additions to the existing Anaconda Pintler Wilderness.
Greater Yellowstone Area
Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness additions; Dome Mountain, Emigrant Peak, the Paradise Face, Shell Mountain, Mount Rae, Deer Creeks, the Beartooth Face, Line Creek Plateau, Crazy Mountains, Tobacco Root Mountains, Snowcrest Range, Bridger Mountains, Gravelly Range, Black Butte, Lone Butte, West Fork Madison, the Bighorn units, Centennial Mountains, Red Rock Lakes, Gallatin Range, Lionhead, Lee Metcalf additions; Cowboy’s Heaven, Pryor Mountains, Lost Water Canyon.
Bitter creek, Terry Badlands, U Bend, Medicine Lake, Missouri Breaks, and the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.