The Montana Portion of NREPA

Northern Montana

Montana has some of the most 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 more than 14.3 million acres – more than 14% of the state. By contrast, Montana only has 15 wilderness areas covering 3.4 million acres, or slightly less than 3.7% of the state.

More than 6 million Forest Service roadless acres, plus hundreds of thousands of acres of Bureau of Land Management and Fish & Wildlife Service 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.

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.

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.

mtWild1
Roadless Areas

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.

mtWild2
Proposed Wilderness

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.

mtWild3
Restoration

Taken together, designation of all roadless lands will provide a quilt of wildlands that could work to begin the ecological restoration process for the heavily logged Yaak drainage.

mtwild4
Cabinet Mountains

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 additional land 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.

mtwild5
Scotchman’s Peak Wilderness

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 have worked for decades promoting this area. http://www.scotchmanpeaks.org/

mtwild6

 

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 are important for corridors linking the Cabinet-Yaak to the Bitterroot Mountains.

Next, visit the Bitterroot Divide Complex…