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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Mar 28 2016

The Wild Heart of Montana

Unequaled wildlife habitat in central Montana at stake in the latest BLM management plan

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In the heart of Montana, where the Missouri River sweeps south to welcome the Musselshell, the waters that once carried Lewis and Clark flow through a vast mosaic landscape of pine coulees, cottonwood draws, oxbow wetlands, and sagebrush sea. It’s a stunning, intact river-to-prairie ecosystem, with the CMR-UL Bend National Wildlife Refuge Complex and the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument forming its wild core.

These protected lands along the Missouri – and the wild BLM lands that connect this river corridor to rolling hills and upland prairie – provide unequalled habitat for a spectrum of species, from the endangered black-footed ferrets to sage grouse to bighorn sheep. And perhaps most precious to Montana’s hunters and wildlife watchers, this place is home to some of the most robust elk herds in the world.

The value of this landscape to Montanans, now and for future generations, depends on maintaining the integrity of this habitat. That is why, as the BLM’s Lewistown Field Office prepares a draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) for 750,000 acres of public land, we are working to ensure the agency recognizes the profound opportunity it has to protect that integrity. MWA is teaming up with partners who share our vision for adaptive, robust conservation as the highest and best use for these lands.

Together, the CMR-UL Bend and the Missouri River Breaks National Monument constitute the beating heart of these unequalled wildlands. But these places can provide world-class habitat only if the multiple-use public lands that surround them remain healthy, intact, and thereby able to buffer against the invasive species and soil erosion that come with unchecked motorized travel or unsustainable development. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of prime, undeveloped habitats surrounding the CMR-UL Bend and the Missouri River Breaks, including Blood Creek, West Crooked Creek, and the Dovetail area above the Musselshell. These places contain prime habitat because of their intact, natural character, and the BLM should manage them to preserve their rare wildness and to enhance the role they play as a buffer to the CMR-UL Bend and the monument.

There are several other important backcountry areas that extend outward from the river corridors. In these areas, the BLM should prioritize responsible recreation access, habitat restoration, and additional buffering of the CMR-UL Bend and the monument. The Arrow Creek, Little Crooked Creek, and Drag Creek areas are a few that would benefit from that kind of prioritized conservation.

The BLM has a chance to implement smart, landscape-scale conservation in the Lewistown RMP, with wildness and wildlife rightfully recognized as the highest value of these extraordinary public lands.

If you agree, please share your thoughts with BLM Planning Team’s Dan Brunkhorst, at dbrunkho@blm.gov. Tell him the BLM should protect the 16,600 acres of Chimney Bend, 12,409 acres of Carter Coulee, and 15,868 acres of the Dovetail area for their outstanding wilderness characteristics. And suggest that areas like Arrow Creek, Cemetery Road, and Drag Creek should be managed with their backcountry and wildlife resources as a priority.

And if you want to stay up-to-date every step of the way through this planning process, be sure to sign up for updates at blm_mt_Lewistown_RPM@blm.gov.

For more information on our work protecting these and other prairie wildlands around central and eastern Montana, contact me at csmillie@wildmontana.org or Mark Good at mgood@wildmontana.org.

 - Charlie Smillie, MWA eastern Montana field director