The consolidation of public lands in Montana’s Blackfoot Valley has led to a golden opportunity for restoration and conservation
Western Montana’s Blackfoot Valley lies along the southern edge of the Crown of the Continent, a vast complex of land comprised primarily of the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat wilderness areas and Glacier National Park. A popular destination for hunting and fishing, the outdoor appeal of the Blackfoot Valley is a critical component to the local economy. Healthy populations of deer and elk inhabit the valley year round, and the Blackfoot River flowing down the middle of the valley supports critical populations of Westslope cutthroat and bull trout. This area also provides important habitat linkage from the Crown of the Continent ecosystem to the Garnet Mountain Range, which runs along the southern edge of the valley.
Today, the BLM’s Missoula Field Office is responsible for the management of 156,000 surface acres in the Blackfoot Valley and the adjacent Garnet Range. The Missoula BLM is currently in the process of updating their Resource Management Plan: a document that will provide goals, objectives, and direction for the management of these lands for the next 20 to 30 years. But before we look at recommendations for the future, it’s important to understand how we got to where we are today.
A Fragmented Past
The area has an interesting past and a long history of conservation efforts. As early as the 1860s, many of these lands were owned by the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railroads. A hundred years later, these lands belonged to corporate timber companies. As a result, vast acreages resembled a checkerboard pattern of public and private land. This fragmented layout made land management more costly and made access challenging.
Starting in the late 1970s, public and private landowners and stakeholders in the valley came together to guide conservation decisions on the future of this extraordinary place. Since that time, hundreds of millions of conservation dollars, from both public and private sources, have been poured into the valley to restore sensible ownership patterns and shore up large tracts of vital wildlife habitat.
The results point to one of the most effective community-based conservation efforts in the country—anchored by the 40,000-acre Blackfoot Clearwater Game Range, one of the oldest state-owned game ranges in Montana. The first conservation easement ever placed on private land in Montana occurred in this valley, and now more than 100,000 acres of private lands are in permanent protection for the benefit of fish and wildlife.
Another example of the Blackfoot’s conservation efforts can be seen in the areas around Marcum and Chamberlain mountains. Much of these lands were corporate timber land, but as these logging companies moved out of the area, these parcels were offered for sale. Local and national conservation organizations acquired these lands, eventually transferring ownership to the BLM, guaranteeing long-term, conservation-minded, multiple-use management.
The Blackfoot Today
To build on the last 40 years of conservation achievements wrought by sportsmen and women, federal and state agencies, and private landowners, we need to continue to sustain traditional uses of the land, but do so in a way that conserves this important fish and wildlife habitat from the impacts of surface disturbance and development. We need to maintain public access, but in a way that balances road access and habitat needs. And we need to focus land management on the conservation, restoration, and enhancement of key habitats that also support our economy. These lands provide unique opportunities for hunting, fishing, hiking, and other healthy and enjoyable outdoor activities. It is important that these lands are restored and kept intact.
To achieve all of these goals and still allow traditional uses, such as timber management and livestock grazing, to continue, sportsmen are asking the BLM to consider backcountry conservation management for certain areas as the agency revisits its Resource Management Plan. This land management tool exists to help conserve, restore, and enhance large areas of generally intact and undeveloped BLM-managed lands that foster recreationally important fish and wildlife species.
The aforementioned Marcum and Chamberlain mountains fit this bill perfectly. According to the BLM, more than half of the hunter-harvested whitetail deer in the entire district come from these two hunting areas. Also being recommended for backcountry conservation management are portions of the Hoodoo and Ram Mountains, home to healthy populations of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and cutthroat trout—two of Montana’s most sought-after game species. Collectively, these four areas offer important big game habitat and are heavily utilized by sportsmen during hunting season.
With your help, we’ve let the BLM know that by managing these areas for backcountry conservation management, the agency would be ensuring that this sort of sustained use continues well into the future. Of all the letters submitted during the 60-day comment period, 63 percent were from TRCP members in favor of backcountry conservation management.Encouraging backcountry conservation, Montana TRCP members sent the BLM 63% of all comments. Here's why Click To Tweet
BLM-managed lands in the Blackfoot Valley are a significant part of one of the most successful landscape-level conservation efforts in the county. As the BLM spends the next few months drafting their planning proposals for the area, we ask that you stay tuned for opportunities to weigh in by becoming a member of TRCP today (it’s free).
In the future, we’ll keep you posted on this and any other issues that affect your hunting and fishing heritage, specifically regarding places that are too valuable to risk, like Montana’s Blackfoot Valley and the surrounding Marcum, Chamberlain, Hoodoo, and Ram mountains.