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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Jun 04 2019

Another BLM Management Plan, Another Sell Out

BLM releases a draft plan for public lands in western Montana that again champions industry, discards conservation

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The same day that the Bureau of Land Management released its highly controversial draft resource management plan (RMP) for public lands in central Montana administered by the Lewistown Field Office, it also released a draft plan covering lands in western Montana administered by the Missoula Field Office. 

Unfortunately, the Missoula draft RMP is every bit as bad as the Lewistown RMP. (Here is volume one of the RMP and here is volume two.)

The Missoula draft RMP emphasizes active vegetation management, i.e. maximizing acres for timber harvest and treatments and producing the greatest possible quantities of forest products. Conservation isn’t a priority – at all. 

The Missoula Field Office oversees the management and protection of over 160,000 acres of widely varying public lands across nine counties. This isn’t a contiguous zone, but rather a collection of highly unique places. These public lands include heavily used recreation areas along the lower stretch of the Blackfoot River, geologically significant areas well-loved by rock climbers, and the last remaining roadless areas of the Garnet Range, which offer rich habitat for moose, elk, deer, bear, and other wildlife.

In 2014, the BLM identified 25,000 acres in the Missoula Field Office management area worthy of surveying for wilderness characteristics. MWA reviewed those 25,000 acres and found that nearly 17,000 of them qualified as “lands with wilderness characteristics” (LWCs) and deserved protection.

In its preferred management alternative, the BLM would protect zero acres that have been identified as LWCs. 

Moreover, the BLM’s preferred alternative would no longer offer protection to two areas designated as “areas of critical environmental concern” (ACECs) – Limestone Cliff and Bear Creek Flats. In the one ACEC that would remain, Phil Wright Rock, the preferred alternative would allow for livestock grazing, commercial timber harvest, and mineral development – all actions that are inconsistent with protecting and preventing irreparable damage to the important historic, cultural, scenic, and fish and wildlife resources present in this area.

Under all alternatives, the BLM will continue to manage the three Missoula Field Office wilderness study areas (WSAs) to maintain their wilderness characteristics. These WSAs are Hoodoo Mountain (located between Drummond and Lincoln), Quigg West (east of Hamilton), and Wales Creek (south of Ovando). In this plan, the BLM has indicated management designations for these WSAs should they be withdrawn from Big-W Wilderness consideration. These designations would protect fewer than 50% of the current WSA acres as ACECs and instead would assign 11,380 acres a lesser designation as a Backcountry Conservation Area.

All in all, the changes that the BLM recommends in its draft Missoula RMP would open up remaining roadless areas in the Garnet Range to timber projects and new roads, diminishing the range’s high quality wildlife habitat. 

The recently released Lewistown and Missoula RMPs are not unique. They are both part of a larger effort by the Department of the Interior to prevent or limit local land managers from protecting public lands that we treasure. Plans released in both New Mexico and Alaska in the last six months have similarly stripped ACEC and LWC protections. 

We now have until August 15 to provide comments to the BLM regarding the Missoula draft RMP. This is your opportunity not only to stand up for the values we know need to be protected in our wild western Montana BLM lands, but also to give voice to the fact that the American public will not stand by while the Department of the Interior champions oil, gas, and resource extraction and shuns the health, wildness, and accessibility of our public lands. 

Please write a personal, detailed comment telling the BLM and Department of the Interior why the Missoula BLM lands mean a lot to you and to our community. Don’t hesitate to share that you’re disappointed with the emphasis the plan alternatives place on resource extraction and share exactly which areas are deserving of ACEC and LWC protections. 

- Erin Clark, MWA western Montana field director