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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Jun 17 2020

Changes We Want to See Made to the Helena-Lewis and Clark Plan Revision

The revised Forest plan needs to protect many more areas than the final draft currently does


A few weeks ago, the Forest Service released its final draft of a management plan for the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. The Forest includes some of Montana’s most revered public lands, including the Big Snowy Mountains, the Little Belts, Big Belts, Badger-Two Medicine, Elkhorn Mountains, and the entire stretch of the Continental Divide between Helena and Glacier National Park. 

This plan will determine how the agency is going to manage these places and so many others in the 1.9 million-acre Forest for the next 20 to 30 years. 

There’s one more step in the Helena-Lewis and Clark Forest plan revision, and that’s the objection process, in which those who have commented on earlier drafts of the plan are allowed to submit their objections to what is in the final draft. The objection period ends on July 20, after which the Forest Service will sign a “record of decision,” and the plan goes into effect.

While we found plenty of decisions in the final draft to be happy with, we found numerous others we strongly object to. Below are some of the most important changes, by landscape, we’ll be asking the Forest Service to make to the Forest plan. We’ll be encouraging our members and supporters who are eligible to submit objections to follow suit.

Big Snowies Wilderness Study Area 

The Big Snowies are some of the wildest country in the Lower 48, and the Forest Service recognizes this by recommending 66,000 acres for Wilderness designation. While happy with this recognition, MWA objects to the boundaries proposed in the draft plan and is proposing alternative boundaries that enlarge the recommended Wilderness by 10,000 more acres, which would help protect the wilderness quality of these mountains. This enlargement would still allow mountain biking on a separate trail, but helps prevent inadvertent mountain bike use in the recommended Wilderness, and prevent potential conflict between mountain bikers and horseback riders.  

The Badger-Two Medicine 

Since time immemorial, the Blackfeet Nation has relied on the Badger-Two Medicine for their cultural practices. The Blackfeet have stated that mechanized uses are not compatible with the cultural values of the Badger-Two Medicine. MWA stands with the Blackfeet in their objection to allowing mechanized use to continue in the Badger. We are asking the Forest Service to apply many of the same protective standards as recommended Wilderness to the Badger while also adding components that specifically protect cultural values and enable the Blackfeet to make management decisions along with the Forest Service.

Middle Fork Judith Wilderness Study Area

Since designated as a wilderness study area in 1977, the Middle Fork Judith has only become wilder thanks to previous travel management decisions that have limited motorized use in the WSA. The Forest Service should protect the wild quality of the area and recommend it for Wilderness protection, which it didn’t do in the final draft of the plan.

Many Areas that Will Be Affected by the “Primitive Recreation Opportunity Spectrum” 

The Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) is a system the Forest Service uses for classifying and managing recreation opportunities. The ROS is divided into six categories, ranging from primitive to urban. The Forest Service uses the ROS determination to manage what activities are suitable or allowable in a given area. The primitive ROS is reserved for areas that are “large, remote, wild, and predominantly unmodified,” and thus are usually applied to Wilderness and recommended Wilderness areas. We’re calling on the Forest Service to manage the primitive ROS in the Helena-Lewis and Clark plan primarily for traditional foot and stock use. 

The Crazy Mountains

The Loco Mountain area in the Crazies is remote, with no motorized travel routes, offering a high degree of solitude. It also offers secure habitat for elk, wolverines, and Canada lynx. The area is also important for backcountry hunting, hiking, fishing, and horseback riding. But the final draft of the Forest plan offers no protection for this area. We are asking the Forest Service to recognize the remote wildness of this area by applying a primitive ROS setting.

The Elkhorns

The Elkhorn Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) provides an island of refuge for many species, including deer, elk, wolverines, and possibly grizzly bears. It also provides connectivity to other wildlands. The final draft of the plan does not protect the wild heart of the Elkhorns, fails to prohibit oil and gas leasing, and guts the foundational WMU principle of putting wildlife before development.

Arrastra Creek

Adjacent to the Scapegoat Wilderness, Arrastra Creek provides crucial habitat for grizzly bears and Canada lynx. The Forest plan did not recommend this area for Wilderness, but it should. 

To learn more about MWA’s concerns with the plan and for more information about what the plan means for other landscapes in the Forest, download our guide.

Per Forest Service rules, only those who have already commented on the Helena-Lewis and Clark Forest plan are eligible to submit objections. You can use this guide for drafting your objections. You can also join us online for a workshop I'll be leading on June 29 walking you through the objection process.

Register for Workshop

Zach Angstead
Central Montana Field Director

Zach works with communities in central Montana to protect island ranges like the Little Belt and Big Snowy Mountains, prairie wildlands, and the Rocky Mountain Front. When he isn’t working you can find Zach hiking, fishing, camping with his family, and caving to explore Montana underground.
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