Central Montana's Secret Wildlands
The Musselshell breaks country is a wondrous landscape of buttes, breaks, badlands, and prairies
In this open and untamed country with few roads and fewer trails, everything is off the beaten path.
This is the wild heart of Montana, where the Musselshell River sweeps north to meet the Missouri through a vast landscape of buttes, breaks, badlands, grassland seas, and open forests. Mountain ranges in the distance are dwarfed by the vastness of the prairie. It’s a stunning place rich in human history, wildlife habitat, and solitude – and one of North America’s last remaining intact large-scale prairie ecosystems.
Critical: Take Action Today
In May, the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) released a new version of its resource management plan (RMP), the document that will direct how the agency’s Lewistown Field Office will manage 650,000 surface acres of wild public lands in this area, the wild heart of Montana.
The RMP proposes leaving up to 99% of all surface acres in the Lewistown Field Office planning area open to oil and gas exploration and development. The proposed plan provides no protections for over 200,000 acres of lands that the field office had previously identified as having wilderness characteristics, and it removes important administrative designations from every Area of Critical Environmental Concern in the planning area. The draft further fails to consider the real impacts climate change facing our planet.
In short, the plan is a disaster.
It is a transparent attempt by the Department of the Interior (DOI) to sell out our wild public lands to oil and gas interests while stripping away science and public input. It ignores the critical wildlife habitat, ecological significance, and wild solitude of central Montana. It is evidence of DOI's disdain for our public wildlands.
We must make it clear to the BLM and the DOI protecting Montana's wild heart is critical, and that we won’t tolerate its transparent favoring of oil and gas interests. Take a moment today to write a comment telling the BLM and DOI why protecting the wild heart of Montana is so critical, and we’ll submit it to the agencies on your behalf.
What’s at Stake
Montana has what most western states lost long ago: hundreds of thousands of acres of unplowed, undeveloped, and diverse grasslands, stretching from the UL Bend to Arrow Creek and the Missouri River Breaks. These areas provide essential habitat for some of the healthiest elk and mule deer herds in North America, offer important breeding and feeding habitats for many migratory birds, and compose the wild heart of Montana.
Among the pristine wild places in the Lewistown Field Office planning area are West Crooked Creek, Dovetail, Cottonwood, Carter Coulee, Horse Camp Trail, Dunn Ridge, Chain Buttes, Carroll Coulee, Fort Musselshell (A and B), Spear Coulee, Biggett, Big Snowies tack-ons (A and B), Chimney Bend, Dog Creek South, Armell’s Creek, and Fargo Coulee. These untrammeled wildlands are unique to Montana, and should be managed specifically to protect their wild character. In 2013/14, fhe field office inventoried its planning area and found these places to be Lands with Wilderness Characteristics, a designation that means the agency considers them worthy of management as wilderness.
Blood Creek, Cemetery Road, Drag Creek, the Judith Mountains, Arrow Creek, Little Crooked Creek, and Red Mountain are revered by outdoor enthusiasts. The habitat in these areas needs enhancement and conservation, and the BLM should prioritize responsible recreation access and habitat restoration over new roads and resource extraction. The BLM should managed these areas as Backcountry Conservation Areas, using specific, legally enforceable guidelines that manage the land for its highest values: wildlife habitat and backcountry hunting. If these areas are not managed for these objectives, their unique wild character will be at great risk.
During its inventory, the Lewistown Field Office office recognized these areas are all exceptionally wild. Unfortunately, and despite the fact that these areas have low potential for economically viable oil and gas development, the Department of Interior in Washington D.C. ignored the local decision-making process in a transparent attempt to open virtually every single acre to oil and gas leasing.
What’s more, areas that have been managed for important recreational, cultural, paleontological, and ecological resources are poised to be opened to oil and gas leasing as well. The eight Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs) that the Lewistown Field Office has managed since the 1990s would be completely eliminated under the preferred alternative. The elimination of ACECs is literally unprecedented, but we’re facing the possibility that irreplaceable indigenous resources, waters that house pure westslope cutthroat trout, and irreplaceable opportunities for hiking and solitude would be sold out to benefit oil and gas interests.
This rare landscape is priceless to Montanans and to all Americans. Now is the time for us to speak up for these places, and to defend our priceless public lands from industrial attempts to exploit them for private gain.