Protecting the Flathead’s Last Wild Strongholds
As population grows, communities come together to protect wild ranges
Home to the Bob Marshall, Great Bear, and the Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas, the Flathead National Forest provides the quintessential mountain backdrop to one of the fastest growing population centers in the state. The glacier-fed rivers, outstanding access to trails and campgrounds, and vast big game habitat make the Flathead a recreational destination for tourists and locals in all seasons. The Flathead National Forest holds a high level of biodiversity, and is home to three federally listed threatened animal species: grizzly bear, Canada lynx, and bull trout; it is also home to the threatened water howellia.
MWA is fighting to protect key remaining roadless areas in the Swan Mountains and the Whitefish Range that have outstanding ecological integrity, provide habitat for threatened species, and offer opportunities for quiet recreation. Throughout the Flathead National Forest’s multi-year forest management planning process, MWA has worked side-by-side with community members and decisionmakers to ensure that these last habitat strongholds are protected as recommended Wilderness in the Flathead’s updated forest management plan.
For more information or to get involved, contact us.
The Wild Swan
A hike in the wild Swan Range is a lesson in forest ecology. Starting at the valley floor, a rich community of plant life abounds: dripping ferns, mossy rocks, mushrooms poking up through dark soil, and boggy wetlands that provide habitat for rare plants and small mammals, as well as low-elevation winter range for big game. Climbing higher through the forest, the Mission Mountains emerge into view across the Swan Valley, as the forest opens to grasses, shrubs, large conifers, and snags that are home to owls, woodpeckers, and bats. And, of course, there are huckleberries everywhere. Beyond the treeline, the Wild Swan takes a different shape, still teeming with bright green flora and flecked with colorful wildflowers in the summer, but rocky and rugged. The Swan Crest has long been home to mountain goats and pikas, but more recently in its history, it has also become a destination for people willing to make the trek to the crest of the range.
Areas like the Jewel Basin, the Alpine Crest Trail, and the Swan Front are among the treasured areas in the Swan that are experiencing growing recreational use while still holding sensitive and diverse habitat for wildlife. With a long – and still active – history of logging, the remaining roadless areas in the Swan are truly the wildest country that remains in this diverse valley.
In the Swan, MWA advocates for
- Protection of the Jewel Basin as Recommended Wilderness.
- Protection of the Swan Front as Recommended Wilderness, expanding the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area.
- Protection of Bunker and Upper Sullivan Creeks as Recommended Wilderness.
- Managing Recommended Wilderness as Wilderness, prohibiting non-conforming recreational and landscape uses.
The Whitefish Range
Adjacent to Glacier National Park, the Whitefish Range provides refuge for a remarkable community of life in the transboundary region of the Crown of the Continent. The clean, clear waters of the Whitefish Range flow to the Wild and Scenic North Fork of the Flathead River, contributing to the exceptional quality of the Flathead watershed. Supporting the highest density of grizzly bears in the lower 48, as well as wolverines, lynx, bull trout, and westslope cutthroat trout, the area also boasts a unique habitat for subalpine larch, subalpine fir and whitebark pine trees, an important keystone species. In short, the Whitefish Range is remarkable.
The Whitefish Range is a backyard destination for the growing communities of Columbia Falls and Whitefish, drawing residents and a large numbers of tourists who come to hike, hunt, fish, mountain bike, and ski.
What’s at Stake
For decades, citizen advocates and members of Montana's congressional delegation have supported wilderness protection for the Whitefish Range. In 1925, Winton Weydemeyer, a local rancher and one of MWA’s first board members, first advocated for a 485,000-acre wilderness area that included land in the Kootenai and Flathead National Forests. Since then, roads have been built, lands fractured, and new uses established. Today, we work to protect the last remaining wild core in the Whitefish Range.
Positive Results, Forward Movement
As members of the Whitefish Range Partnership (WRP), MWA worked with more than 30 people representing a diverse range of interests to hammer out a grassroots agreement regarding the management of public lands in the Whitefish Range. After working together for years, the group reached unanimous consensus on a package of recommendations that we presented to the Flathead National Forest for inclusion in its updated new forest management plan. MWA and the WRP are pleased that the Flathead National Forest listened to the community, and included 80,000 acres of new recommended Wilderness in the northern Whitefish Range in their updated forest management plan.