Building a Legacy in the Kootenai
Local stakeholders are coming together to decide the future of Kootenai Country
The 2.2 million acre Kootenai National Forest is a special place: strikingly beautiful, biologically rich, and a little bit mysterious. Because it is off the beaten path, many Montanans know as much about this area in the far northwest corner of the state as they do about Idaho or Alberta. It’s home to clear rivers, big trees, and wild weather that drops up to 100 inches of rain every year. A unique nexus of the maritime Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain climates, the Kootenai National Forest is truly an inland rainforest.
History and Heritage
The Ktunaxa (Kootenai) tribe occupied this area and used the area to hunt, fish, gather plans, and hold ceremonies. Approximately 5,000 members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes now live on or near the Flathead Reservation, which covers much of the southern end of the Flathead Valley.
Communities like Libby, Troy, Noxon, and Trout Creek have long relied on the timber and mining industries operating on surrounding public lands. Traditionally, the Kootenai was known as the timber basket of Montana. These days, however, timber production is down significantly. Now, both the land and the communities are in need of new solutions.
Montanans know that by working together, we can manage our forests, provide jobs for rural communities, and conserve and restore key wildlife habitat and blue ribbon headwaters. Over ten years ago, that’s exactly what the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition set out to do. Business owners, local elected officials, and community members began working to find common ground forest management solutions that enrich the economies and quality of life of local communities that will provide jobs in the front country while protecting the solitude of the backcountry.
In late 2015, the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders struck a historic agreement that establishes guidelines for timber management, creates areas for motorized and non-motorized recreation, and proposes to designate 180,000 acres of additional new wilderness. The agreement prioritizes protection for wild roadless lands in the Yaak, Cabinet Mountains, and Scotchman Peaks. See how this agreement would protect these special places in the Kootenai.
More importantly, this agreement means that the communities of Lincoln and Sanders Counties are moving beyond past conflicts and working together to protect watersheds, secure big game habitat, and maintain a sense of solitude – and mystery – that makes the Kootenai so special.
MWA is doing what we do best – working every day with Montanans from all walks of life on a realistic, practical strategy for communities like Libby and Troy, while forever protecting pristine backcountry. It's time to put the past behind us and work together for a better future for the Kootenai National Forest. MWA, along with diverse citizens of the Kootenai, are doing just that.
The Cabinet Mountains
The Cabinet Mountains Wilderness (CMW) is a pristine jewel. At 35 miles long and varying in width from eight miles to less than one half mile, this area of roughly 94,000 acres is the only designated Wilderness on the 2.2 million-acre Kootenai National Forest.
The CMW and adjacent unprotected lands rise steeply from the forested, glacially-sculpted slopes in the Kootenai River and Clark Fork River Valleys to nearly 9,000 feet of elevation on the snow-covered peaks. With up to 100 inches of rain annually, this inland rainforest holds unique biological richness and provides outstanding water quality for downstream communities. Home to mountain goats, wolverines, lynx, native trout, and a recovering grizzly bear population, more of the last remaining adjacent roadless lands adjacent to the CMW need to be protected.
Scotchman Peaks Proposed Wilderness
To the west of the CMW, and still in the Cabinet Range, is the 88,000-acre Scotchman Peaks roadless area. The Scotchman Peaks span the Idaho-Montana border and provide the towering backdrop for the communities of Clark Fork, Hope, and Sandpoint.
Superb access to these magnificent peaks offers an unparalleled outdoor experience. Scotchman Peak, at 7,009 feet, looms above Lake Pend Oreille and the Clark Fork River. The Scotchman Peaks are known for their outstanding mountain goat habitat, providing a scarce, rugged haven for these alpine denizens. The Scotchmans are also home to moose, wolverine, and lynx.
The Kootenai National Forest and the Panhandle National Forest of Idaho have recognized how biologically diverse and special the Scotchman Peaks are by recommending this rugged area for Wilderness designation in their forest management plans. MWA, in partnership with Friends of Scotchmans Peak Wilderness, has worked for over thirteen years to build a broad base of support in Montana and Idaho for permanent Wilderness protection. The time is now to protect the Scotchmans forever.
Located in the far northwest corner of Montana, the Yaak Valley is one of the most productive and biologically diverse landscapes in the state. Unique in that it’s influenced by Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain climates, the Yaak provides more than 180,000 acres of wild, secure roadless habitat for grizzly bears and other rare and endangered species. The area is a connectivity center for wildlife, linking to southern British Columbia to the north, the Selkirk Mountains to the west, the Cabinets and Bitterroots to the south, and the Crown of the Continent to the east. Managed by the U.S. Forest Service, 98% of the Yaak is publically owned, yet none if it has been permanently protected as Wilderness.
MWA is working alongside our partners at the Yaak Valley Forest Council (YVFC) to change this.
The Kootenai National Forest has recommended 23,500 acres of Roderick Mountain, located south of the town of Yaak and east of Yaak River, for Wilderness in its updated forest management plan. In addition to this, the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders proposes that other species-rich roadless lands in the Yaak be protected, including Grizzly Peak, Flatiron Mountain, and Gold Hill West. The agreement also includes non-motorized recreation designations for existing roadless lands in the Northwest Peaks and Mount Henry. This historic agreement would permanently protect over 50,000 acres of roadless lands in the Yaak. Currently, the KFSC is building community support for their collaborative agreement so we can secure the most important wildlands of the Yaak forever.