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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Feb 05 2019

Big Win in the Whitefish Range

Forest Service embraces the Whitefish Range Partnership proposal in its final Flathead Forest plan

Announcements, Featured

Take a hike in the northern Whitefish Range, and you’d think you were in a designated wilderness area. You could come across grizzly, lynx, or even wolverine tracks before scaling a peak where everything you see below is intact, remote, silent. This place has all the characteristics of a big-W Wilderness.

We’re thrilled the U.S. Forest Service agrees. 

Last week, the agency released its final management plan for the Flathead National Forest, officially recommending nearly 80,000 acres of Wilderness in the Whitefish Range. This is a critical step towards Congress making the northern Whitefish Range a designated wilderness area, a move that would secure and enhance habitat for grizzly bears, lynx, wolverines, and lots of other wildlife. 

MWA has been advocating for protection of the Whitefish Range since the 1960s. With that goal in mind, in 2012 we joined a diverse group of Montanans who came together as the Whitefish Range Partnership. The purpose of the Partnership was to forge a collaborative proposal for management of this special area. Our proposal included actions that would help sustain the local timber industry, expand opportunities for mountain biking and other forms of outdoor recreation, and protect the northern section of the Whitefish Range.

We thank the Forest Service for largely including the Whitefish Range Partnership proposal in is Flathead Forest plan.
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We commend you, our members and supporters, for taking the time to attend meetings, write comments, and everything we asked of you to influence the future of the Flathead. It’s time to give yourselves a big pat on the back. 

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In addition to its Wilderness recommendation in the Whitefish Range, the Forest Service recommends Wilderness designation for another 110,000 acres across the Flathead Forest, including Jewel Basin, the Swan Front, and several areas adjacent to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. In all, the new management plan recommends more than 190,000 acres of new Wilderness, preserving some of the most pristine and ecologically-intact areas in the Forest.

Unfortunately, there are a few Wilderness-worthy landscapes in the Flathead that the Forest Service did not recommend for Wilderness. The agency recommended only a small part of the Bunker Creek area, leaving upper Sullivan Creek out completely. The Forest Service also recommended one small area adjacent to the Mission Mountains Wilderness, but passed on other rich, roadless areas that also deserve to be part of the Wilderness. We’ll nonetheless continue to advocate vigorously for these special places at every turn.

In spite of these shortcomings in the Flathead Forest plan, we commend the Forest Service for the Wilderness recommendations it made to protect some of the wildest roadless country in Montana. We also thank the Forest Service for managing recommended Wilderness like designated Wilderness, which will preserve the opportunity for Congress to make that designation when the time comes.

We also commend you, our members and supporters, for taking the time to attend meetings, write comments, and everything we asked of you to influence the future of the Flathead. It’s time to give yourselves a big pat on the back. 

- Grete Gansauer, MWA northwest Montana field director