Backpacker above Heart Lake, Great Burn, Lolo National Forest, Montana

Big western red cedar, West Fork Fish Creek, Great Burn, Lolo National Forest, Montana

The 275,000-acre Great Burn proposed wilderness lies west of Missoula on the Idaho-Montana divide. The 1910 Burn, which over ran 3 million acres of northern Idaho and western Montana, gives this wildland its name. The Burn left a legacy of snags and beautiful vistas from ridgelines cleared by the blaze. Alpine lakes, like a string of pearls, are strung along the Bitterroot Divide.

When I lived in Missoula, the Great Burn was one of my favorite wild places.

In winter, I made ski trips along the divide, often camping where I could see both sunset and sunrise from a treeless ridge.  On one such trip, I once found wolverine tracks on the crest. One Christmas break from school, I started to snowshoe from Lolo Pass to Hoodoo Pass while the temperature dropped to 38 below. I eventually turned around and retreated to Lolo Pass. I learned a life lesson there– my car would not start at 38 below.

I had excursions in other seasons as well. Despite the name referring to the burn, there are also cathedral groves of giant western red cedar in some of the drainages.  One of the more memorable hikes was with the poet Gary Snyder. Synder’s poem Straight Creek—Great Burn commemorates that hike.

The Great Burn is a natural travel corridor for wildlife up and down the Bitterroot Range. Its clear and pure streams host populations of Westslope cutthroat trout and endangered bull trout. Wolves, elk, mountain goat, and other wildlife are known to reside in the area.  A grizzly bear was shot on the Idaho side of the divide, demonstrating that the area is a natural corridor for wildlife recolonizing the Selway Bitterroot wildlands.

Today the Great Burn needs your help. There are not many places in the West where we can protect a quarter-million acres of wildlands—but the Great Burn proposed wilderness is one of these. We humans need to demonstrate restraint and humility by designating the Great Burn as wilderness.

For more information on the Great Burn proposed wilderness check out the Friends of the Clearwater https://www.friendsoftheclearwater.org/forest-plan/

Also,look at Great Burn Conservation https://www.greatburn.org/  

The Clearwater-Nez Perce National Forest is revising its forest plan and is receiving comments until April 20th. Please voice your support for wilderness protection for the Great Burn by writing the forest at this link.  https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public/CommentInput?project=44089

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About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

4 Responses to Save the Great Burn Proposed Wilderness

  1. avatar Mary Pugliese says:

    Stop the burn.

  2. avatar Rich says:

    Thank you George for posting this and especially for providing information on how to send in comments.

  3. Back in the mid-19, Orville Daniels hadn’t been supervisor of the Lolo National Forest for long before Harris came knocking on his door, eager to discuss the future of the Great Burn Wilderness Study Area.

  4. avatar Susan Barmeyer says:

    I am a native Montanan who has recreated for years in or near the great Burn. It is a wild gem and belongs to the people who treasure it. We shared wilderness experiences with our children who both learned to cherish wilderness. The Great Burn should be designated as wilderness!

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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