The Montana Portion of NREPA
Surrounding Yellowstone National Park are some of the largest wildlands in the Rockies.
Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness
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/Deer Creeks
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. https://allianceforthewildrockies.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/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-foot 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.
Tobacco Root Mountains
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 wildlife-filled 110,000-acre Snowcrest Range Proposed Wilderness. A long narrow range with a number of 10,000-foot 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 might see pronghorn as elk on the high slopes of this range.
Madison River Valley
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-acre West Fork Madison and 53,000-acre Bighorn units.
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, off-road vehicles have established many new “routes” in the range.
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.
Pryor Mountains, continued
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.