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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
May 18 2015

Keep It Wild on the Hi-Line

There’s still time to urge the BLM to protect the best of Montana's last prairie wildlands


The draft Resource Management Plan for the Bureau of Land Management Hi-Line District is still being reviewed, so there is still time to comment. This plan will determine how the BLM manages our stunning Hi-Line area for the next 20 years or so. The latest draft of the plan isn’t good enough, leaving big swaths of prairie at risk of losing their wilderness characteristics. 

As part of the most recent management plan revision for the Hi-Line, the BLM identified about 386,000 acres of public land that met its criteria as “lands with wilderness characteristics” (LWCs). And in the final plan, that number may be bumped up an additional 16,000 acres because of new wilderness inventory information that the Montana Wilderness Association provided the BLM.

But identifying land as having wilderness characteristics is quite different from actually managing lands to protect those wilderness characteristics. Under the draft management plan for the Hi-Line region, the BLM is proposing that less than three percent (or 10,700 acres) of the land identified as having wilderness characteristics be managed explicitly to protect those wilderness characteristics. That represents a mere one-half of one percent of the 2.4 million acres of BLM lands in the Hi-Line district.

Protective stipulations will be applied to some LWCs to protect sage grouse and other nesting birds, but that doesn’t guarantee that wilderness values – or, for that matter, historic values and other wildlife values – will be protected. Given all the uncertainties surrounding sage grouse management, habitat boundaries could change leaving wilderness and other values vulnerable.

Congressional and state politics could also come into play through delays or efforts to weaken sage grouse protections.  For example, there is an amendment attached to a current Congressional defense authorization bill to delay sage grouse listing for 10 years and make management of sage grouse on BLM and Forest Service lands conform to state plans, which have much weaker protections.

It is impossible to look over the horizon and predict exactly what the next big threat to these lands will be, but since this plan will be in effect for at least 20 years, taking steps now to protect wilderness values will better ensure that these special places remain as they are for future generations.

You can help by sending an email to Jamie Connell, the BLM State Director, at BLM_MT_HiLine_RMP@blm.gov.  Urge her to take a more balanced approach to the Hi-Line plan and manage the following areas explicitly to protect their wilderness characteristics:

  • The Frenchman Breaks complex (81,734 acres) northwest of Glasgow, an area that provides winter range for mule deer and pronghorn, as well as habitat for greater sage grouse and sharp-tailed grouse
  • Lamere/Lambing Coulee and Phillips Black Coulees (47,657 acres) in northwest Philips County, an area that provides winter range for mule deer and pronghorn, as well as habitat for a range of grassland bird species, including greater sage grouse and sharp-tailed grouse
  • The rugged country of Gumbo Plateau (16,718 acres), Lower Grant Coulee (39,913 acres), and Carpenter Creek (7,351 acres) in southwest Valley County, all of which provide a variety of backcountry big game hunting and bird hunting opportunities
  • Black Elk Coulee (8721 acres) in southern Blaine County, harboring a world-class bighorn sheep herd, along with winter range for mule deer.
  • Rock Creek (9,264 acres) in north of Hinsdale in Valley County, providing outstanding scenery and habitat for greater sage-grouse and other nesting birds. Historic and cultural resources also abound here.

- Mark Good, MWA's central Montana field director