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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Jan 12 2017

Give Ten Lakes a Break

Around 90 percent of the Kootenai is open to motorized and mechanized use. Ten Lakes need not be as well.

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In a forest where around 90% of the entire 2.2 million acres are open to motorized and mechanized use, now is our time to protect Ten Lakes in the Forest Service's travel planning process. This is the first opportunity we’ve had since the 1970s to influence management and protect this historically recognized area. We have until February 14, 2017 to submit public comments.

Efforts to protect Ten Lakes go back nearly a century. In 1925 Winton Weydemeyer,  a resident of Fortine, Montana, proposed a new wilderness in the northern Whitefish Range that included what is now the Ten Lakes Scenic Area.

“This is the Whitefish Range,” he stated in American Forester magazine. “Though it thus admirably conforms to the requirements demanded by a Western wilderness lover, it is by no means inaccessible to the ordinary camper who is willing to pay the just price of entry -- a few hours’ travel from automobile roads by foot or on horseback.”

Fast forward to 1964, when the Ten Lakes Scenic Area was created because of its outstanding scenic beauty, opportunities for quiet recreation, and special value for wildlife. In 1966, the Forest Service found “the quiet and serenity of [Ten Lakes Scenic Area]” to be “among its primary values” and closed the area to motorized use. Since its inception, this small but ecologically rich area near the Canadian border has been noted as vital habitat for lynx, grizzly bear, wolverine, fisher, wolf, and, until the mid-1980s, woodland caribou.

With growing pressure from the snowmobiling community and increased enforcement challenges, the Forest Service opened the area to snowmobiles just a year prior to when Congress designated Ten Lakes a Wilderness Study Area (WSA) under the Montana Wilderness Study Act of 1977. This act clearly states Wilderness Study Areas should be managed to “maintain their presently existing wilderness character and potential for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System.”

Despite Weydemeyer’s conviction and strong public opinion in favor of Wilderness over the years, motorized and mechanized use has continued to expand in Ten Lakes. Today, as pressure increases on this small gem, we hope to preserve the habitat and quiet beauty of Ten Lakes long into the future.

Within the draft travel plan  there are four management  alternatives. Alternative 4 is the only alternative that preserves the solitude and wild character of the Ten Lakes Wilderness Study Area by managing the entire 34,000 as Wilderness and placing wildlife and wilderness values first.

Alternative 2, the Forest Service’s preferred alternative, allows over 60% of the WSA to be traversed by motorized and mechanized users, fracturing the WSA into small, disjointed areas. All other management directions prioritize motorized and mechanized values over secure habitat and remote recreational experiences. This prioritization compromises Ten Lakes’ potential for Wilderness designation in the future.

The Ten Lakes WSA is  woven into a larger network of wild country, providing connectivity to the Whitefish Range and Glacier National Park. And it’s the only area in the Kootenai National Forest where grizzly bears are thriving, making this important habitat for the struggling grizzly populations in the Yaak and Cabinet Mountains. Moreover, this area serves as important habitat for species such as wolverines and lynx and provides outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation.

MWA encourages the Forest Service to make a final decision that:

  • Selects Alternative 4, which  manages Ten Lakes WSA to protect solitude, secure wildlife habitat, and wilderness values that maintains the wild character and the potential for future Wilderness designation as Congress intended.
  • Remains consistent with the Kootenai Forest plan and prohibits motorized and mechanized us in the recommended Wilderness
  • Takes a landscape-scale approach protecting adjacent roadless areas in Blacktail Creek and Tuchuck for primitive wilderness values

Please share your comments with the Forest Service today.

- Amy Robinson, MWA northwest Montana field director