Smith River, Little Belt Mountains,  Helena Lewis and Clark NF. The FS could not find a single acre in the Little Belt Mountains worthy of wilderness recommendation. Photo by George Wuerthner

The recently released Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest Service (HLCNF) plan is a huge disappointment by recommending only 153,000 acres out of 1,500,000 eligible aces of the forest for new wilderness.

The Forest Service did not recommend wilderness for many deserving areas like the Elkhorn Mountains, Teton/Blackleaf along the Rocky Mountain Front, Camas Creek in the Big Belt Mountains, and the northern portion of the Crazy Mountains. It is incredulous that they could not find any roadless lands to recommend wilderness out of 14 roadless areas in the Little Belt Mountains, including the Tenderfoot Deep Creek Roadless Area, Pilgrim Roadless Area, or Big Baldy Roadless area among others.

Even more distressing, they are illegally dismissing Congressional intent by shrinking the 87,000 acres Big Snowy Mountains WSA to only 66,000 acres of recommended wilderness and eliminating any recommended wilderness protection for the 82,000 acres Middle Fork of the Judith WSA.

65131-00035 Middle Fork Judith River canyon Little Belt Mountains Lewis and Clark NF Montana George Wuerthner-2976.tif

The Big Snowies and the Middle Fork Judith WSAs were established in 1977 by Senate bill S. 393. Among the mandates in the Act: SEC. 3. (a) says: “Except as otherwise provided by this section, and subject to existing private rights, the wilderness study areas designated by this Act shall, until Congress determines otherwise, be administered by the Secretary of Agriculture so as to maintain their presently existing wilderness character and pote.tintial for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation Systems.”

Hiker and dog on trailin Big Snowy Mountains, Lewis and Clark NF, Montana George Wuerthner_

Note that the S. 393 legislation says “shall” maintain wilderness character and so forth. Congress did not say “may” maintain or “could” maintain if it was convenient. It uses the word SHALL, meaning you have no discretion.

65135-00457 Hiker at Grandview Point above Crystal Lake, Snowy Mts., Lewis and Clark NF, MT. George Wuerthner.tif

Instead of following the Congressional instruction, the Forest Service has permitted non-conforming activities in the WSA, such as mountain biking, ORV use, and snowmobiling in these areas.  In  designated wilderness, these activities are not permitted.

With the continued population pressures in Montana, we have a moral obligation to preserve wild country with the strongest and time-tested designations provided by the 1964 Wilderness Act. Unfortunately, the Forest Service has failed its ethical and legal obligation to protect the full extent of the many deserving and critical wildlands on the HLCNF for biodiversity, carbon storage, migration corridors, and wildlife habitat.


About The Author

George Wuerthner

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

13 Responses to Helena Lewis and Clark Plan Failures

  1. Maggie Frazier says:

    As always, Mr. Wuerthner hits the nail on the head, so to speak. It appears that no one in this current administration comprehends the cost to this planet and to all of our lives how important Wilderness areas are. I honestly wonder if the powers that be are under the impression that as long as there are lovely green golf courses – thats all the “nature” thats necessary! Thats not just “sad” – thats sheer stupidity.
    At this particular point in time – ALL of us need to speak up before it truly is too late.

  2. Chris Zinda says:

    Moral obligation…

    This is what you get by not taking a moral position on industrial wreckreation for decades, GW.

    “This isn’t rocket science. That these otherwise learned and respected advocates do not advocate for this easily made and purified argument means any other they make, including a neoliberal industrial tourism one, is tainted. As such, they have lost to the anti-public lands, anti-Antiquities Act politicians from the very start, as the immorality of the opposition is not being met with equal or greater moral force.”

    • Hiker says:

      Hey Chris, welcome back! I missed your anti-GW posts. Somebody has to keep that old so and so in line. If he’s not for you he must be against you, is that it? Can you tell me who you’re quoting? Not quoting yourself again are you?

  3. Chris Zinda says:

    You reap what you sow.

    “On behalf of all of us who live in and enjoy the vast recreational opportunities in the west, WWP provides oversight and monitoring to ensure the proper management of public lands and restores degraded landscapes to native, wild, functional and resilient ecosystems.”

    • Hiker says:

      You’ll find no argument about that classic statement. I wonder what you think GW is sowing with this article he posted? Any thoughts about what he wrote or do you just think it’s not worth discussing?

      • Chris Zinda says:

        This WSA issue is decades old, GW’s lament the fruit of enviro legal settlement of which the Government never delivered and the enviro.orgs benefit through funding & campaign.

        Further, had Wilderness advocates like GW decades ago before WSAs were established demanded for definitions of appropriate uses and for carrying capacities enforced through permits for every Wilderness area we also would likely not be here.

        Instead, we get the Great American Outdoors Act.

        • Hiker says:

          Chris it sounds like you’re blaming GW for things that happened decades ago and then accuse him of benefiting from the very thing he’s fighting. Anything to shift blame to GW. You make no sense. And once again you’re not addressing what was written by GW in this article. Let’s make this simple; do you agree with GW about anything that he wrote above?

          • Chris Zinda says:

            Oh, I agree w/GW on this piece – like damn near all. Was a ‘hero of mine at one time.

            I just can’t stomach the hypocrisy when he never gets to the core. Never will, it seems… A fallen hero.

            Yes. My quote, below, thinking of he and Deep Greens years ago. I was asked to co-author a piece on industrial wreckreation w/ Molvar’s bud CK recently but I declined, responding w/ a talking heads lyric, “Say something once, why say it again?”

            “Deep Ecology as an organized spiritual endeavor has become immoral bastardized horseshit, run by guilty oligarchs with spiritual rot complaining about motorized wreckreation or cattle, never calling for carrying capacities for the consumptive recreational uses their businesses and shared elite pursuits promote. They instead delude their moral dilemma through the use of their cash to, in part, solve the consumptive problems the Thompkins clan and their ilk have created with their North Face, Patagucci and Esprit derived financial empire to begin. Arne Naess should be rolling in his grave but, maybe, he was co-opted, too.

            Their conservation is like any other, the biblical Garden to be cultivated and managed, one that seldom defers to natural processes unless those processes are deemed beneficial for our extractive use. A sheen of secular humanism means they create and selectively use science to justify their conservation positions, with forest practices and wildland fire being some of the best examples. Cult of the Red Pine-like forests are being fully realized officially, cooperatively, placatingly crisscrossed with heads and trails for wheels, hooves, and feet, having seemingly either sprung up or been hardened everywhere that is neither first mined or grazed. Very few places, even in our wildlife refuges, are off limits to all humans. In this sense, they are rationally no better than the working class manifest destiny, prosperity doctrine evangelicals they scorn and, soon, all of the lower-48 will look and feel like the tamed European continent.”

            • Hiker says:

              Chris, I’m all for limited access where needed. I’ve seen it in action many times and many places. The problem, like I’ve said before, is logistics…funding, staffing, patrol, location of access gates, etc. This is not a small problem in a world where the FS spends most of its budget on fire and the NPS has a seemingly endless backlog of maintenance issues that never get funded.
              I’m curious Chris, is there an organization you would support? If not maybe start your own.

              • Chris Zinda says:

                Funding…isn’t the Great American Outdoors Act enough? I mean, where were you, GW, WWP, WW, etc. ASKING for a part of this corpolite legislation to implement logistics?

                I heard crickets from the virtuous. Always will.

                • Hiker says:

                  Interesting how an issue like funding, or anything else for that matter, always gets shifted back to blaming GW and his outfit. As if every problem that exists with the environment is their fault.

                  Maybe you’re hearing crickets because you’re not listening.


July 2020


‎"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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