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Dec 03 2014

Poised for Protection

The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act on the cusp of passage

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A 31-year wilderness designation drought in Montana may finally be at an end. Included in the National Defense Authorization Act now before Congress, the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act is on the verge of becoming law.

“This is as close as the Heritage Act has ever come to passage,” says Brian Sybert, Executive Director of Montana Wilderness Association. “We’re not celebrating yet, but if it passes, it would be a momentous occasion in the history of conservation in Montana and a huge victory for all Montanans and our storied outdoor heritage.”

The Heritage Act would not only keep one of Montana’s most iconic landscapes as it is for generations to come, but would also add 67,000 new acres of wilderness to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex on its 50th anniversary.

As a key member in the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front, MWA has been on the Front for several years working with ranchers, hunters, anglers, outfitters, guides, local business owners, Tribal members, public officials, and other conservationists in finding the common ground that has made the Heritage Act possible.

“This bipartisan bill is a testament to the hard work that people who live and work along the Front have put into compromising and finding the right, Montana-made solution for permanently protecting this special landscape and for protecting the wildlife who depend on it,” Sybert says.

In permanently protecting the Rocky Mountain Front, the Heritage Act also safeguards some of the last best habitat in the Lower 48 for grizzly bears, elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, wolves, wolverines, and a host of animals that need big country to exist and thrive in.

“In passing this bill, Congress would not only protect this landscape for generations to come, but also help ensure that those generations will be able to enjoy the magnificent wildlife we have there today,” says Gerry Jennings, a longtime MWA council member who has been working for many years to protect the Rocky Mountain Front.

In addition to expanding the Bob Marshall, the Heritage Act strikes a fair balance of uses among those who make their living from the land and those who recreate on it. The bill would maintain all grazing opportunities that ranchers currently enjoy. It would also create a 208,000-acre Conservation Management Area that would allow chainsaws, game carts and all existing motorized use to continue. Moreover, it would direct the Bureau of Land Management and National Forest Service to prioritize noxious weed management on the Front – one of the greatest threats to both public and private lands in Montana.

“While the crafting and balance of this bill are due to the hard work of people along the Front, the Heritage Act would not be poised for passage without people working equally as hard for its passage in D.C., originally Sen. Max Baucus and now Sen. Jon Tester,” Jennings says. “Jon has been a committed advocate for our wild places and our outdoor heritage since he was elected.”

“We want to thank Sen. Tester especially for carrying this bill to the finish line,” Sybert says. “The bill wouldn’t be where it is today without his leadership.”

The Heritage Act has come a long way since its inception several years ago. A retired outfitter who spent 55 years guiding people in the Bob Marshall, Chuck Blixrud was one of the locals who helped craft this bill that now sits at the highest levels of our national government. 

“We have a national treasure here that really needs to be kept the way it is,” he says.