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Home » Community Blogs » George Wuerthner's "On the Range" » Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act Misses on Weeds and Wilderness
The Coalition to Protect the Front supports the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act as a means of “protecting the Front”. It justifies the legislation by the “threat” noxious weeds make to the native plant communities of this magnificent landscape. Weeds, by displacing native plants, reduce the carrying capacity of the Front for native wildlife—which everyone agrees is one of the special attributes of the Front. Unfortunately, the Heritage Act only proposes a paltry 67,000 acres as wilderness. While any new wilderness on the Front is welcome, the Heritage Act misses an important opportunity to protect the bulk of the wildlands that exist here, including the Badger Two Medicine and other important roadless lands. Indeed, on their web page, the Coalition sees the threat of more wilderness as one of the reasons for supporting their plan. So to prevent the “threat” of wilderness, locals want to designate the majority of land along the Front as “Conservation Management Areas.” What a misnomer that name is.

Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act Misses on Weeds and Wilderness

The Coalition to Protect the Front supports the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act as a means of “protecting the Front”. It justifies the legislation by the “threat” noxious weeds make to the native plant communities of this magnificent landscape. Weeds, by displacing native plants, reduce the carrying capacity of the Front for native wildlife—which everyone agrees is one of the special attributes of the Front.

Unfortunately, the Heritage Act only proposes a paltry 67,000 acres as wilderness. While any new wilderness on the Front is welcome, the Heritage Act misses an important opportunity to protect the bulk of the wildlands that exist here, including the Badger Two Medicine and other important roadless lands.

Indeed, on its web page, the Coalition describes the threat of more wilderness as one of the reasons for supporting the plan. So to prevent the “threat” of wilderness, locals want to designate the majority of land along the Front as “Conservation Management Areas.” What a misnomer that name is.

Conservation Management would permit logging, livestock grazing and motorized use in some areas. All of these activities have been recognized time and again as destructive to native ecosystems, and biodiversity and ironically all are among the major sources for the spread of weeds.

Yet the participants supporting the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act either do not know, or more likely, have agreed to ignore the well-documented role that logging, motorized use, and most especially livestock grazing have in the spread of weeds and for creation of the disturbed soil habitat that favors weed establishment to garner support from these constituencies.

It’s like a coalition made up of tobacco companies agreeing that lung cancer is a serious threat to American health without mentioning that cigarette smoking is a major contributor to that cancer.

Instead of dealing directly with the cause of weed spread, the Coalition wants to treat the symptoms. It’s analogous to promoting cigarette smoking while advocating for more hospitals to treat cancer victims. This never works, and will only result in more weeds, and greater tax payer subsidies of these industries and activities.

The best way to slow and prevent the spread of weeds is to eliminate motorized access, logging, and cattle grazing. Designation of wilderness is by far the best solution (other than it unfortunately allows cattle grazing to continue—thus guarantees more weed spread).

If people are truly concerned about the spread of weeds, then we need to recognize that livestock (also an exotic species that displaces native species) grazing, motorized use and logging are incompatible with that goal. And the silence on this issue by the Coalition to Save the Front makes them all the more culpable in the spread of these unwanted plants.

What makes the Heritage Act even more disappointing is that the Rocky Mountain Front wildlands received some of the highest wilderness quality ratings of all federal lands outside of Alaska during the RARE11 (Roadless Area Review Evaluation) in the 1970s. These are among the best wildlands left in the lower 48 states, and to allow a small group of self appointed local folks to degrade wildlands values that belong to all Americans by allowing continued logging, motorized use, and livestock grazing is an affront to Americans and future generations.

The best way to save the Heritage of the Front is to eliminate these degrading uses and designate all the remaining roadless areas as wilderness. The Coaliton to Protect the Front Heritage Act is nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing designated to permanently protect activities known to degrade and destroy public values.

George Wuerthner is an ecologist, former government botanist, and author of 35 books.

About George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner has published 36 books, including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy

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  1. Many Montana wilderness supporters remain disappointed that the Act would only designate a fraction of Wilderness-deserving lands on the Rocky Mountain Front as Wilderness, while leaving too much of the Front open to logging and other forms of development.

    Many dedicated Wilderness supporters have tried to get the Coalition to listen to our concerns and add more protections to the unparalleled wildlife habitat and wildlands on the Rocky Mountain Front, but, unfortunately, they seem more concerned with politics and appeasing the opinions of the anti-wilderness crowd.

    For example, just last month the Coalition dropped almost 30,000 acres of Wilderness from their proposal at the request of snowmobilers and those who oppose Wilderness.

    Our experience has been that the Coalition only listens to the people they think they need to listen to, which is unfortunate, as these lands belong equally to all Americans and, last time I checked, we aren’t making any more wildlands like Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front. Thanks.

  2. Hey Stoney: Would you care to elaborate a little bit here on specifically who or what non-profit you are referring to with these words of yours? Thanks Stoney.

    “…an unthinking, uneducated commentater who criticizes a lot and contributes little to the solution. Of course, I am not a non-profit environmental corporation who gets its funding by creating controversy instead of solutions.”

  3. Mathew: No – I am not interested in a dissertation on philosophical ideology. Hundreds of hours of working on this with multiple personalities and complex issues makes it a very time consuming and difficult venture. The point I was making is that the time and expense put in by individuals is out of a great desire to get something meaningful done. Nothing good is easy.

    I hope you and others are able to put together a proposal for more Wilderness that can be supported and introduced as legislation by one of our Congressmen. I would like very much to see an alternative proposal by those who disagree.


  4. Before another acre of land is turned to wilderness, let us do a study of just how the wilderness we already have is doing. How many and what kind of weeds are there? What about trails, wildlife, etc? Taxpayers are supporting millions of acres of “wilderness land”, but we have no idea whether the land actually benefits form that or not, we do know that a lot of environmental groups make a ton of money getting more and mroe land off limits to said taxpayers.

  5. Stoney – You have to admit, the wilderness acreage is pitiful compared to what’s available and suitable for wilderness. I remember the ’89 bill in which the Badger-Two Med were significant additions and highly lauded by MWA, etc. Now, however, I guess they’re not that important since they’re not included in either this proposal or Tester’s logging bill.

    Perhaps you can enlighten us on whether or not PEW funded this effort as well as the Tester bill, since they both seem to be super light on wilderness and way too heavy on “conservation management areas” (RMF) and even permanent ATV play areas (FJRA).

    I also heard that the “negotiation” that is being so lauded by you was actually conducted under the condition that if anyone in the group opposed anything, it was dropped without further effort. If this isn’t true, please let us know because, the way it turned out, is sure seems like anything that was even a little objectionable to the status quo land uses is absent. There’s no wilderness buffer, only slivers of real wilderness, and far as I can tell, the “war on weeds” is all about getting fed $$ to address weed problems primarily caused by local users who now want taxpayers to clean up after them.

    Sorry we can’t do backflips over the RMF proposal. Truly sorry. I know there were some good people working on this, but it kind of turned out like Tester’s logging bill and we gave up a lot more than we got (if we “get” anything, which is doubtful because of the mandated logging, ceding local control over national forests, and a host of other lame bad ideas.)

  6. Let’s see, the guys on the right don’t like it (Skinner) and the guys on the left don’t like it (Matthew and George) – that’s all the evidence I need to see that this one represents the middle ground. Nice work.

  7. Gee I wonder why no one wants to give up their access to hundreds of thousands of acres of lands to the Wilderness proponents?

    Oh I get it, we can all go in (as long as we hike or horseback ride only) no, no one else thanks. no, I said no one else!

    what (?) a silent, human powered bicycle, riding in my cathedral like Holy Wilderness. Oh no, never, it’d ruin my experience.

    no it doesn’t matter that those mountain bicyclists make up one of the largest, silent, human powered users who pay taxes, vote and do volunteer trail work be on our side.

    no one else, no. now everybody vote for Wilderness today !

  8. It is necessary to lock out most of the people so they can keep working and pay for the trail building, trash hauling, etc so the “good people” only have to concentrate on having fun without a bunch of folks around disturbing their “experience”.

  9. Dave,

    not sure how you got “stand alone” from my post (it was tongue in cheek by the way).

    if anything I’d say that Wilderness proponents are the “stand alone” group. they may have deep pockets and connections in Washington but obviously not overwhelming support of the people.

    if you ask a million people if they support “saving” the land of course most will say “yes” do most people know the details of a “yes” ?

    so to clarify: I think multiple use is good and there needs to be balance between extractive industries and recreational pursuits. both provide jobs, resources and economic benefits.

    of that piece of the pie (which is a limited resource) i don’t think Wilderness groups should take over the recreational portion of things with thousands (millions?) of acres of land for a limited slice of the population.

    not sure what the “reed” if for but if you want to play your saxaphone in a Wilderness area, that may need congressional approval. 🙂

  10. Those darned C-words again!! Preservationists really don’t mind collaboration but, when it comes to consensus and compromise, they want no part of THAT. Western lawmakers want no part of more designated Wilderness until site-specific scientific and economic forest management can bypass the courts. Easterners have been trying to shove more wilderness downs our throats for YEARS. Lets see them make more Wilderness in their OWN tiny states before they force it on us.

  11. Bob, back in the old days, there were reeds in the induction system.
    Oh, the smell of Castrol on race day…..

  12. Personally, I support designating every acre that qualifies. What is the original inventoried total roadless acreage? What percent of that total does this proposal designate?

    For those who exclude the wishes of the 300 million or so who currently “own” these lands, and think a nativist solution is reasonable, I’d like nothing more than to hear what “local” folks think of returning it all to the Blackfeet Nation. If Congress continues to abdicate any and all responsibility to protect and restore public lands, perhaps returning these lands isn’t such a bad idea. These indigeneous people do have roughly 10,000 years of experience managing these lands.

  13. You mean the same people firing up the drills on the Blackfeet reservation?
    Seems to me you don’t understand Indians particularly well. They have woo-woos and normal people, too, as well as an internal debate that is just as divisive as us white folks.
    If it became wilderness, it would be tribal wilderness closed non-tribal members without special permission. I’m okay with that, by the way, on tribal lands, but would oppose a transfer if that was the end result.

    As for the qualifications — qualified and suitable are two different things.

  14. Yep, same ol same ol. Drill in Eastern Montana, but leave the front alone. We in the western part of the state will take the tax dollars from oil drilled in the eastern part of the state, but don’t touch our oil or gas on the front.

    Same ol, Same ol

  15. George Wuerthner

    Big Sky

    There is a big difference between drilling in the middle of a wheat field–an already highly degraded and unnatural environment and drilling in a relatively natural wildlands.

  16. Good grief, oil is not just where enviros say it is ok to drill, it is where it is, scenery has nothing whatsoever to do with it. Where the geologists determine oil is beneath the ground, is where we need to drill. Enviros opinion matters not one iota, except to make the country suffer from a shortage of fuel because they prevent drilling. Rationing according to need, not desire, is the only reasonable way to cut consumption.

  17. George Wuerthner


    People need beauty. They need wild places. They need wildlife in wild places. These are not just frivolous needs. We need to preserve places where these attributes are given priority. There is no better place to give these attributes priority than the Rocky Mountain Front.

    We use energy. No doubt about that. But we waste a tremendous amount of energy. Before I say it’s OK to drill for oil in places like the Rocky Mountain Front, I would suggest we have tried everything else to reduce energy consumption. We’re a long ways from that point.

  18. Granted we all need beauty, but that is in the eye of the beholder. Sunrise is one of the most beautiful things there is, no matter where a person is, flowers, babies, all are things of beauty. I truly feel sorry for anyone who cannot enjoy the beauty around them without “being someplace special”. Special places change over time, when I retired I moved close to Yellowstone so I could go often, but it has changed so dramatically the last few years, I find myself spending time in the Big Horns, much closer to my home and a beauty all it’s own.
    We do need to quit wasting fuel and rationing according to need is the fairest way to do it. We all need to enjoy the beauty at or near home instead of driving hundreds or thousands of miles to hike in a place off limits to others. That is one of the downfalls of hiking only land, it almost mandates driving to get there and back.

  19. Obviously, George, you must not have spent much time in our area. Yes, we have people who manage land, and do a good job of it to boot.

    The difference being that we utilize the land to help people. Nothing wrong with a little winderness (we even have that). But to take an entire area and designate it for one use only is ridiculous.

    The tax angle is the crutch. Western Montana wants our tax dollars, but people like yourself won’t commit to doing their part. You will find that many along the front have no problem with drilling for oil or natural gas. It creates jobs and keeps the economy of those areas going. You can have both. You just have to do it right.

    Another reason why people like yourself get little support from people who are affected by your ridiculous schemes.

    Drill baby, Drill

  20. Big Sky

    I don’t object on ecological grounds to oil and gas development in degraded landscapes like wheat and hay fields such as you find in places like North Dakota (which I visited this July so know first hand what it’s like) But I will tell you that there are great social costs to this kind of boom.

    But show me where it’s been done right in wildlands settings? The Green River Basin by Pinedale Wyoming where mule deer populations have crashed by 50% along with substantial decline in sage grouse? Where air pollution now rivals the levels found in LA Basin.

    How about the tar sands in Alberta where the boreal forest is sweep away by bulldozers, with the sands removed, cooked, and toxic lakes left over?

    How about the Rocky Mountain Foothills in Alberta where grizzly bears are now endangered due to all the roading, etc. associated with natural gas and oil production.

    Have you recently visited the North Slope of Alaska to see the industrialization of the Arctic Coast?

    Can you point to any wild place where it’s been done right without jeopardizing wildlands,wilderness values?

    And that doesn’t factor in the social/economic effects. The influx of new residents, outrageous housing costs, the need to build new schools, jails, social institutions etc. needed to deal with the workers. And that need to be sustained after the oil/gas boom is over, but the tax base is gone. (See what happened to Williston ND in the 1970s after the first oil rush there).

  21. Big Sky

    I might also correct another misconception in your remark–that wilderness is a “single” use. Wilderness designation has many positive benefits–protection of water quality. The highest quality trout habitat in the West is in roadless or wilderness lands. Some of our best hunting areas in terms of quality experience are in wilderness. Wilderness is also where rare species that are affected by human manipulation and persecution like wolves, wolverine, grizzlies, etc. do best. Wilderness protects beauty. Wilderness protects natural plant community and natural ecological processes like wildfire. Wilderness protects biodiversity. Wilderness protect hydrological function reducing flooding. Wilderness protects rare pollinators and other invertebrates. Wilderness is far more than a single use.

  22. The idea that Wilderness allows only one use (and thus is not multiple use) is absurd. Tell that to the thousands and thousands of people who each year, often multiple times, fish, hunt, hike, photograph, watch wildlife, paint, horsepack, outfit, camp, and enjoy the many, many different aspects of wild country. For some reason we never see millions of dollars each year being spent by people recreating in oil fields. Oil and gas extraction and other uses that damage or destroy the annually renewable, exponentially valuable nature of wild country are neither appropriate nor economically wise use of these ever diminishing landscapes. Wilderness is a great protector of vast herds of wildlife and critical watersheds.
    Multiple use does not mean that something is available for every use. It was never intended that way, it is not defined that way and should not be intrepreted that way. Your home is multiple use; but, I anticipate you don’t use the living room to change oil in your motorbike or lawnmower.
    You don’t use all of the parts of a home for all purposes, just as you don’t use all parts of the National Forest for all uses. That does not mean that your home is not multiple use. Your lawm might make a great place for an ATV racetract; but, I’ll bet that “multiple use” is not acceptable to that area.
    That is why they call it “Planning”. I know that is alien to some folks; however, one would hope than common sense would allow one to think that through without irrational assertions about multiple use meaning every use under the sun. Those who do not want to accept these concepts will never agree nor understand. So goes life.


  23. Sorry, but wilderness is a single use of a single type by a single class of recreationist–the non-mechanized primitivist. The only diversity or multiplicity comes from the type of recreation conducted on site, which are all variations on the same theme — no wheels.
    I mean, who has the time to drag their “painting” junk up into the boonies, or are they gonna pack it on a spendy horse?
    And how do you get all that junk to the trailhead? On wheels, in the big dually pickup with hoss trailer, or the 4wd Subaru burning dead dinos drilled from, um, “degraded” landscapes.
    I’m getting tired of the spin that multiple use means five people hugging one tree at the same time. Wilderness in terms of the public disallows 98 percent of recreation visits. So at best, wilderness recreation is a tiny subset of the multiple use continuum.
    Wilderness also falls short when it comes to management options and stewardship. Take weeds. I think it is absolutely insane that herbicide applications are so restricted on public lands — and completely taboo in wilderness.
    What if combinations of applied fire and herbicides would work at getting vegetation where it belongs in terms of wildlife needs? What is wrong with doing so in the most cost-effective, SAFEST way, which involves modern machinery?
    Then there is the example of the Colonel Bob wilderness in the Olympics. Big windthrow in 2006 and 2007, jackstrawed 4 to 8 foot monsters all across the trails, which all remain closed, while the trails in the adjacent “roadless area” have been cleared with appropriate power tools.
    These are dangerous wood. The Mountaineers are not gonna go in there with their LL Bean REI camp saws, and none of them could run a double misery whip. So four years later, a contract is going out for real loggers to use CHAIN SAWS and POWER WINCHES to chop their way through the mess.
    And I haven’t even touched the economic side. Where’s the funding source for trails maintenance? Taxpayers. The trail clubs get some volunteers, but not meeting the needs, and even if volunteers, there’s grant support from taxpayers in many cases. So wilderness is a money pit, a great benefit for its few users, few workers, but not self-sustaining or a decent economic base for more than a tiny minority.
    Never mind that the Col Bob wood is HUGE. It will be left to rot, all of it. It’s old, but no longer old GROWTH, okay? Some was aready dead and rotten, fine, but some should be pulled and used to recover at least the costs of the saw work.
    I remember one discussion paper from a guy who ended up on the USFS payroll doing KIPZ planning….he wrote hiking could support convenience stores at trailheads. I’m not kidding. I still have the exact document stashed somewhere. Delusional? Yep, and he’s on the payroll.

  24. All of the fallen timber is a big reason why the beetles have gotten such a toe hold, but heaven forbid we disturb the beetles nor the enviros worshipping them.
    I had a discussion the other day with a fund raiser for an environmental groups. When I explained that a lot of young couple with little kids are both working and may try to grab a few hours to picnic or fish only to find themselves shut out of places that would take several hours of hiking. He made the statement that was no way for folks to live, but the reality is that most folks cannot play for a living, and taxes are so high, partly to support environmental groups that it takes two incomes.
    As for wildlife doing better in wilderness areas, do you have stats showing that? I think they do worse, animals that are tolerant of human activity are likely to be seen anywhere. Animals that want nothing to do with humans try to go into wilderness areas to avoid them….then here they come on foot anyway. Maybe all new wilderness needs to be off limits to all humans, including hikers.

  25. Take the livestock…sheep are the worst because their wool carries a herd of seeds… off the forests and public land. Tell the politicians and the rest that if they want steak, the WHITE HOUSE LAWN, all public inner city parks, cemeteries, golf courses, etc are available for grazing cattle and sheep. That is where the majority of people go anyway and the city dwellers SHOULD have a real concept of where their meat comes from other than a the local super box store. The back country hikers/ rangers/ fire fighters should all be required to go naked. No equipment, no clothes, nothing that might carry “bad seeds”. That should stop the bad seed traveling and all hikers would donate to the blood letting for mosquitoes and flies thus helping the environment. Plus they would get their share of vitamin D for a change… Can’t hardly get that sitting in an office all year.