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Home Wild Word The Future Is Yours to Shape on the Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest
Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Jan 09 2017

The Future Is Yours to Shape on the Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest

Help us protect wildlands from Nevada Mountain to the Big Snowies


The U.S. Forest Service recently released a draft plan, what it calls a “proposed action,” for the future management of the 2.8-million acre Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest (HLCNF). The Forest includes the Rocky Mountain Front, Big Belts, Little Belts, Elkhorns, Big Snowies, Highwoods, and many other beloved landscapes near Helena, Great Falls, and Lewistown.

Through the forest plan process, the Forest Service will be making crucial decisions about secure habitat, clean headwaters, and quiet recreation on one of Montana’s wildest and most diverse national forests. The agency wants to hear from you as it works through the planning process, and will be holding public meetings in several towns later this month to receive public input on the plan (see the schedule below). 

The draft plan and accompanying documents span hundreds of pages addressing forest-wide management goals for everything from timber to wildlife habitat to recreation. The forest has also proposed specific management direction for each of the ten geographic areas, which includes the Rocky Mountain Front, the Highwoods, the northern Crazies, and the vital Continental Divide corridor running through the Upper Blackfoot and Divide areas.

Overall, MWA views the draft plan as a great starting point. Land managers have done an admirable job of incorporating public input into their decision-making so far, and we know that your comments will make a difference going forward.

We don’t expect you to read the entire draft plan and accompanying documents (rest assured that we have). But we do need your help to make sure important, wild places in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest are recognized in the plan and managed in a way that protects their unique qualities and values. While the forest is proposing to add six new areas as recommended Wilderness, it is only planning to protect 10% of roadless lands on the forest. 

Here are some of the highlights of the draft plan organized by geographic area and focusing mainly on recommended Wilderness and recreation designations. For each area, we list elements we encourage you to support going forward, as well as a few areas we are asking the HLCNF to reconsider. 

Helena-Lewis and Clark by the numbers

Total Forest Area: 2.8 million acres
Designated Wilderness: 565,158 acres
Inventoried Roadless Conservation Areas: 1,449,892 acres
Proposed Action Recommended Wilderness: 281,235 acres

One of the most important management directions MWA is supporting in the draft plan is the decision to not allow non-conforming recreational uses – including OHVs, snowmobiles, and mountain bikes – in areas recommended for wilderness.

Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST)

The HLCNF encompasses 273 miles of the CDNST. We support CDNST corridor management that protects the three recommended Wilderness areas along the Divide, including Electric Peak, Nevada Mountain, and Scapegoat Wilderness additions.

We support recommended Wilderness in the draft plan for both the Scapegoat additions and Nevada Mountain. We also support non-motorized backcountry areas for four additional wild areas along the Continental Divide Trail, allowing foot, stock, and bicycle travel. Moreoever, we support a connecting trail between Stemple Pass and Lincoln (Stemple-Baldy) for bicycle, foot, and stock uses.

We believe all CDT wildlands should be classed "unsuitable" for oil and gas leasing.

Divide Geographic Area (202,577 acres) and Upper Blackfoot Geographic Area (333,215 acres)

We support recommended Wilderness in the draft plan for both the Scapegoat additions and Nevada Mountain. (Nevada Mountain is part of both the Divide and Upper Blackfoot geographic areas.)

We support the 29,066 acres recommended for Wilderness in the Blackfoot Meadows/Electric Peak area. We also support the South Hills Special Recreation Area (50,000 acres) designation that encompasses public lands from the Helena South Hills to the Continental Divide at MacDonald and Priest Passes.

We encourage the HLCNF to expand the proposed Nevada Mountain recommended Wilderness east in the Deadman drainage.

Big Belts Geographic Area

We support the 28,589 acres recommended for Wilderness, which includes Gates of the Mountains additions and Mount Baldy.

The draft plan, however, offers less protection for quiet backcountry and fewer wilderness acres than proposed by MWA and our partners in the Montana High Divide Trails (MHDT).  The draft failed to recommend Wilderness for 29,168 acres in Camas Creek, the largest and wildest candidate area in the Big Belts. Please join us in asking the HLCNF to increase access for quiet recreation and secure wildlife habitat in the following five areas: Devil’s Tower, Beartrap-Middleman-Hedges, Cayuse, Irish Gulch, and Grassy Mountain.

Crazies Geographic Area (57,618 acres)

The draft designates most of the Crazies as either “semi-primitive non-motorized” or “semi-primitive motorized with some roaded areas.” MWA would like to see this management recommendation improved to a Wilderness recommendation or a “primitive” recreation designation for the non-motorized portions of the North Crazies.

Elkhorns Geographic Area (160,599 acres)

We support the continued management of the Elkhorns as a unique Wildlife Management Unit (WMU). The draft plan, however, fails to protect the wild heart of the Elkhorns and fails to ensure the Elkhorns WMU will never become an oil and gas field. So we encourage you to ask the Forest Service to:

  • Class the Elkhorns WMU as “unsuitable” for oil and gas leasing
  • Require reclamation of new mining exploration roads and facilities in the WMU
  • Protect the wild, remote, primitive character of the roadless heart of the Elkhorns

Highwoods Geographic Area (42,315 acres)

We encourage you ask the HLCNF to consider including a “primitive” recreation designation for a portion of the eastern Highwoods Roadless Area.

Little Belts Geographic Area (802,711 acres)

We support the 14,544-acre recommended Wilderness for the Deep Creek area included in the draft. We also support the primitive recreation management direction for 59,443 acres of the Middle Fork Judith Wilderness Study Area.

The draft plan, however, protects a very small percentage of wild country in the Little Belts overall (9%), so we encourage you to ask the HLCNF to consider using the Primitive recreation designation for parts of the Tenderfoot area and additional areas of Deep Creek.

Rocky Mountain Geographic Area (777,963 acres)

We also support the proposed designation of the Badger-Two Medicine area as a “special emphasis area,” with management direction to protect cultural and historic values and Blackfeet treaty rights and consultation. We also support management direction in the draft plan that corresponds to legislative direction from the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act and to Conservation Management Area purposes.

Snowies Geographic Area (103,480 acres)

We support the recommended Wilderness in the draft plan for the Big Snowies Wilderness Study Area and adjoining roadless areas.

Please consider attending one of the upcoming public meetings to learn more and to speak up for wild places on the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest heard.

Lincoln: January 23, 5 - 7 p.m. at the Lincoln Community Center
Helena: January 24, 4 - 7 p.m. at the Radisson Colonial Hotel
Townsend: January 25, 5 - 7 p.m. at the Townsend Library
White Sulphur Springs: January 26, 5 - 7 p.m. at the White Sulphur Springs High School Library
Harlowtown: January 30, 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. at the Harlowtown Library
Stanford: January 30, 5 - 7 p.m. at Standford City Hall
Great Falls: January 31, 4 - 7 p.m. at the Great Falls Civic Center
Browning: February 1, 5 - 7 p.m. at Holiday Inn Express and Suites
Choteau: February 2, 5 - 7 p.m. at Stage Stop Inn

- Casey Perkins, MWA's Rocky Mountain Front field director