Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act Introduced into Senate

Whatever you do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Goethe

For the first time, the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA) was introduced into the Senate by Senator Whitehouse and has seven co-sponsors including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

The bill, S. 3022, would protect 23 million roadless acres in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington. The legislative package has been repeatedly introduced into the House, but this is the first time the bill has any Senate sponsor.

NREPA not only protects the few remaining roadless lands (most of our federal lands and nearly all of our private lands are already roaded and developed), but in keeping with the basic principles of conservation biology, the legislation provides for corridors that would connect these wild chunks of country.

It also promotes restoration of some previously roaded lands providing jobs in road deconstruction.

As singer and wilderenss supporter Carol King noted, “One result of not having NREPA has been a tremendous loss of population among species such as wolverine, lynx, grizzly bear, fluvial Arctic grayling and bull trout.  Plus, protecting these Northern Rockies ecosystems will attract tourists from around the world and, unlike logging, tourism is a sustainable economy that will benefit local communities for generations to come.”

These lands are the fountainheads of the Nation’s major rivers including the Snake/Columbia, Green/Colorado, and Missouri/Mississippi. Protecting these headwaters will preserve the clean drinking water for millions of Americans, as well as industry and agricultural uses.

These mountains are among the most iconic and beautiful landscapes in America. Protecting them as wilderness will greatly enhance the Northern Rockies as a desirable place to live and work. As much new research demonstrates, counties with protected wildlands have lower unemployment, higher property values, and higher incomes than counties with little or no protected lands.

For those who think that wildlands protection only provides tourism jobs, think again. In today’s world where many people can “choose” to live anyplace, access to protected landscapes brings a premium. People move with their feet, and locate near protected federal landscape and bring their jobs, income, and ideas to communities.

Besides favoring business and retirement options for Americans, the legislation will save taxpayers millions of dollars a year by precluding tax payer subsidized timber sales, not to mention protecting habitat for many wildlife species that we (taxpayers) expend great amounts of money to mitigate the impacts of logging sales.

According to a 2010 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report, “Excessive sedimentation is considered the most important factor limiting fish habitat and causing quality impairment.” With over 400,000 miles of logging roads on national forest lands alone, the impact on our rivers and streams is huge. Logging road sedimentation is among the biggest contributors to the demise of bull trout, cutthroat trout, salmon, steelhead and other cold water fish.  Logging roads also fragment and reduce security habitat for other wildlife like elk. All of this is part of the uncounted collateral damage that we must absorb or pay to fix.

Keeping the forestlands of these wildlands intact will also help to alleviate global warming since forests are a huge carbon storage mechanism. Indeed, recent research in Oregon showed that each logging job costs Americans $1.6 million in lost carbon storage. Although the forests of the Northern Rockies are not as productive as those Oregon forests, the basic principle applies.

The proposal is endorsed  by many scientists and former President Jimmy Carter. In the House of Representatives, NREPA is supported by dozens of Congressional representatives led by Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona.

Not surprisingly, none of the Congressional delegations in Idaho, Montana or Wyoming have voiced support for the legislation. But then again, the Northern Rockies state representatives of the past did not support protection of Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park either. It is obvious they were on the wrong side of history.

Also apparently on the wrong side of history are some regional and national organizations who have yet to endorse the proposal including the Montana Wilderness Association and Wilderness Society, among others. Most of these groups believe that such a large, bold proposal will not get traction in Congress. But I can assure you that lack of support from conservation groups will certainly make passage of NPREPA more difficult.

Fortunately, these are national lands owned by all Americans, and as such, local parochial interests—that have been wrong time and time again when it comes to decisions about conserving our public patrimony, are not the only voices that count. With luck NREPA will pass Congress and present and future generations will wonder why there was any reason not to support such bold legislation.

But we should remember the quote from Goethe—dream big—it genius, power, and magic.

To see a map of the proposal go to this link.



  1. Nancy Avatar

    “NREPA not only protects the few remaining roadless lands (most of our federal lands and nearly all of our private lands are already roaded and developed), but in keeping with the basic principles of conservation biology, the legislation provides for corridors that would connect these wild chunks of country”

    Thanks George, for yet another great reminder of what its going to take – NREPA – to wake up the human species/long gone spirit? Re: caring, for the planet, we are systematically trashing because too many are not paying enough attention to the slow destruction.

  2. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    🙂 Isn’t that something. Wow!

    “They took all the trees, put ’em in a tree museum,
    and they charge the people a dollar and half just to see ’em.” lol I always loved that line.

  3. Amre Avatar

    Sounds great! Probably won’t pass in this republican congress, but its still a very good step.

  4. Kyle G Avatar
    Kyle G

    Fantastic! We simply cannot afford to wait any longer given the pace of destructive development across the West. This proposal is most definitely on the right side of history – time to leave the short-sightedness of purely parochial interests behind!

  5. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    I strongly support the NREPA, but I strongly disagree with the authors depiction of a federal owned landscape of sediment fouled rivers, widespread weed infestations, and open roads everywhere for the benefit of lumber companies.

    First, the majority of sedimentation to streams, creeks and rivers is caused by lack of road maintenance and active timber hauling. During the past 20+ years the Forest Service has blocked vehicle traffic from ~90% of the side roads and the amount of timber removed has likewise dropped off a similar amount. The demand for lumber in the US has stayed fairly consistent for decades, which leaves the supply up to private and state lands. When you rely on a smaller timber base, more intense impacts occur to that base, whereas if you broadened the acres, less overall impacts result. In addition, environmental protection standards are significantly less on private and state lands than federal lands.

    The national forests of today are managed vastly different today than 20 years ago and I challenge anyone to prove todays’ Forest Service or BLM timber sales are resulting in significant impacts to the environment.

    1. Nancy Avatar

      Gary, while I can appreciate your wonderfully positive attitude about how national forests are “managed” today, I will politely disagree (like Louise)

      I live on a designated, national “scenic byway” in Montana and while the actual forest land starts miles away, the cutting and hauling out of trees, has been common place for the last 3-4 years – as in logging trucks, coming and going, every day, along my road.

      I walked one of those small “cuttings” just a couple of months ago and was sick to see a lot of still green lodgepoles trees, in the “bone pile” for a future burn off, that had been cut down last fall.

      And of course rumors fly – since these cuttings were on the edge of some very expensive homes – I herd a fire break was necessary to protect.

      Fire breaks (cuttings) also in the forests to protect the human, camping public (at all the designated camping sites along this byway)

      I hope to get up the byway in the next couple of weeks because I am concerned about all the “chopping & dicing” of forests, that’s gone on since last fall, in the name of “managing” our public lands……

    2. Mareks Vilkins Avatar
      Mareks Vilkins

      The demand for lumber in the US has stayed fairly consistent for decades, which leaves the supply up to private and state lands. When you rely on a smaller timber base, more intense impacts occur to that base, whereas if you broadened the acres, less overall impacts result

      the volume of timber on private lands is not similar to the one on the public lands as the best forests were given away to private owners and public lands had remains which nobody wanted

      1. Gary Humbard Avatar
        Gary Humbard

        Mareks, really? Look at a map of any western state which shows private timber company and public forest land and you will see these private lands fairly well distributed among public forest lands.

        Yes, the highest elevation and least productive lands are almost all public lands, but there is a fallacy that the most productive forest lands are privately owned.

        The demand for timber remains constant and thus we can either substantially rely on private and state lands and cut large blocks of timber using very short rotations, with minimal environmental protection standards or expand the land base from which timber is cut using the highest environmental standards in the US through public timber sales.

        Nancy, my comments are in general terms and having worked my entire 37 year career for federal agencies, I’m well aware there are mistakes made and deficiencies to be corrected, however, I will stand by my statement that federal lands are not depicted as the author stated in this article and past articles.

        Louise, the environmental movement has been the best thing that has happened to this country in the last 40+ years and having worked for a federal agency, your well aware that every federal action must go through environmental review. Did you review any of the NEPA documents regarding the Tongass NF or just read an article written by environmental attorneys? I noticed the first thing that pops up from the Earthjustice site is a “donate button”. I’m NOT saying the Forest Service should be allowing old growth logging, but I read the NEPA document for that timber sale before I cast judgement and make comments.

        1. Nancy Avatar

          Gary – curious about your thoughts on this group:

          Today’s issues and concerns:

          And FYI – “donate” buttons, are worth clicking on, depending on the site’s involvement, record and dedication to wildlife & wild land issues and concerns (just made a donation to WWP recently) Money well spent IMHO 🙂

  6. Louise Kane Avatar
    Louise Kane

    “The national forests of today are managed vastly different today than 20 years ago and I challenge anyone to prove todays’ Forest Service or BLM timber sales are resulting in significant impacts to the environment.”

    again we disagree Gary,
    The Forest Service approved another huge swaths of old growth forest in the last remaining temperate rain forests, if this logging is allowed it will severely impact and already damaged ecosystem that supports Sitka Deer and the paltry few remaining Alexander Archipelago wolves. This is just one example of how today’s Forest Service sales are resulting in significant negative impacts to the environment.

    seeing a clear cut forest the first time in British Columbia left a lasting impact, the stuff of nightmares.

  7. Louise Kane Avatar
    Louise Kane

    George thanks

    Government agencies are too concerned with green lighting short term disastrous land use policies rather than advancing long term wise use policies that would better preserve ecosystems and biodiversity goals.

  8. alf Avatar

    On the Beaverhead, the Wise River – Polaris Road needs to to be closed, obliterated and restored from between about a dozen or 15 or so miles south of the community of Wise River (a few miles south of Pattengail Creek, if I remember correctly) to Elkhorn Hot Springs, or Maybe Crystal Park, on the south. That would give an unbroken roadless connection of probably some 20+ miles between the East and West Pioneers WSAs.

    As I recall, there is no patented ground between those points, but there are (or were) a few old, fairy run down private cabins on leased Forest Service land, and I believe 2 or 3 small, low grade campgounds, all of which would be no great loss to the public if closed and removed.

    1. Nancy Avatar

      A lot has changed since the 80’s Alf. The Byway is now paved all the way from Wise River to the junction at 278.

      There are at least 7 good size campgrounds now, all paved (some with full time summer camp hosts) Crystal Park has become a real tourist attraction (also paved, with an overnight parking area)

      You still have to hike a mile or so to get to the old Elkhorn Mine but the road is paved from Mono Creek to the trail head. They took the huge mine building down a few years ago (afraid someone was going to get hurt, wandering around in the ruins) but there are still some decaying cabins left to see, from the town its self.

      The Byway is not plowed in the winter but it gets a lot of use from snowmobilers (groomed trails) There is even a warming hut along the route for wintertime use.

  9. Mareks Vilkins Avatar
    Mareks Vilkins
  10. Bob Hitchcock Avatar
    Bob Hitchcock

    I wrote wildlife portions of NEPA documents for the Shoshone NF. With a velvet glove I suggested that timber sales could be done well if roads were reclaimed and attention to detail was emphasized. The culture within the Forest Service considered anything short of complete personal loyalty to the career advancement of your “superior” as treason and I was run out. This kind of behavior is so common in large organizations that is sickening. In general, mediocrity is enforced within government agencies as a matter of course.

    Currently the District my cabin abuts is scrambling to justify it’s outdated timber program by claiming to protect me from wildfire. Instead of improving natural fire beaks and those along Forest roads they place a timber sale in the forest surrounding my subdivision, ruining that which we moved here to enjoy. They claim that all the dead timber has created greater risk while most fire ecologist say dead trees are less likely to fuel the crown fires that are a real threat.

    While working at American Wildlands I started looking for corridors that would allow mega fauna in the Northern Rockies to find a way into the central and southern Rockies. The Caribou NF caught my eye. The Yukon to Yellowstone program is good but why not Yukon to Yucatan?

  11. Bob Hitchcock Avatar
    Bob Hitchcock

    Oh, by the way:

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Wow. Fantastic! What a mess that was, good riddance.


George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner