By Nick Gevock
Imagine Montana without the Bob Marshall Wilderness, or as most Montanans simply call it “The Bob.”
Think of the Treasure State without the Absaroka-Beartooth, Anaconda-Pintler or Lee Metcalf Wilderness areas. Throw in those smaller gems –like the Rattlesnake, where an elk tag can be filled within sight of Downtown Missoula. . It was five decades ago this month that Congress had the foresight to pass the Wilderness Act. Today we look back and see how blessed we are that people of all political stripes did the hard work to set aside some of our country’s most spectacular places; we see the wisdom inherent in the passage of the act.
One only has to look at other areas of federal or state lands that are heavily roaded, logged, drilled, mined and otherwise disturbed by man. That is not to say that every piece of public land should be wilderness. Nor is it a call to end natural resource development on public lands.
In fact, there are many places where some sound timber management is warranted, and where energy development can be done responsibly.
But the fact is, there are other places in Montana that are best suited for wilderness protection. They’re places that still maintain the untouched character of wildness that the Act described so eloquently. They’ve been studied, and studied, and from a landscape analysis perspective the highest and best use is as wilderness.
That offers the protection that allows wildlife to thrive. It allows streams to continue to provide cold, clean water for fish and to supply drinking water for our homes and towns Wilderness provides places for hunters, anglers, hikers, horseback riders, wildlife watchers, skiers and anybody else who wants a bit of relief from the modern world. Anybody with a pair of boots and will to walk a little bit can experience Wilderness.
Just the language in the Act itself is inspiring. Places that are “untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” That well describes the Bob, where people hike and horseback ride in summer but for much of the year is free of human intervention.
Of course like anything with public lands there are people who say we have enough wilderness and don’t need more. Others say you can’t get into a wilderness because no roads go into them.
But even those people benefit from wilderness areas. Hunters who spend their days afield on the national forests are often pursuing game that came out of these high mountain areas. Anglers that enjoy our world-class fisheries as well as the irrigators that produce our alfalfa, corn and barley rely on the water pumped into our rivers by clean mountain streams. And for others, getting the watch the wildlife that comes out of those mountains every year is a special reward – and a call to protect these natural places that make Montana such a destination for people from around the world. It’s been over three decades since we designated a wilderness area in Montana.
The areas we’re working on now, including the Rocky Mountain Front and some lands in western Montana, are controversial, but worth the effort to protect. Montanans have strong legacy of standing up for Wilderness and protecting important public lands. While the politics of Wilderness designation has deteriorated, the spirit, drive and determination of Montanans of all walks of life has only grown stronger. It’s time for Congress to act and pass the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, Forest Jobs & Recreation, and the North Fork Protection Act.