Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act Introduced

The Gallatin Range south of Bozeman is one of the many wildlands that would receive wilderness designation in NREPA. Photo George Wuerthner

On March 10th, Representative Maloney of New York reintroduced the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA) legislation into Congress. NREPA is visionary. The legislation is big—it would protect 23 million acres as designated wilderness and 1800 miles of rivers as Wild and Scenic. But also, NREPA is the most ecologically viable way to protect the Northern Rockies’ wildlands.

But it would do far more than those numbers suggest. It would provide the undisturbed habitat needed for dozens of species, including endangered lynx, wolverine, grizzly bear, bull trout, and cutthroat trout.

It would protect migration corridors between the larger parcels of protected landscapes, which will be essential for maintaining species viability and movement in an age of climate change.

The Continental Divide Trail in the Beaverhead Mountains provides a natural migration corridor for wildlife. Photo George Wuerthner


Morning Star Mountain, Badger Two Medicine Rocky Mountain Front, Montana. Photo George Wuerthner

Why wilderness? Wilderness is an act of humility. It is a recognition that humans recognize limits. Humans have an ethical obligation to leave some natural landscapes for the other creatures living on the planet. Wilderness is not “pristine,” but it is self-willed land. It is a place where biological processes are permitted to influence the land.

Wilderness is hedge betting against climate change. Unmanaged landscapes store significant amounts of carbon and provide habitat for wildlife and plants to move in response to a warming climate.

The North Fork of the Blackfoot River on the southern edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness would gain wilderness protection. Photo George Wuerthner

Wilderness designation protects watersheds, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and scenic qualities.

Great Burn area straddles the Bitterroot Mountains on the Montana-Idaho border. Photo George Wuerthner 

NREPA will protect some of the best-unprotected wildlands in the region. In Montana, NREPA would include the Whitefish Range by Glacier National Park, the Great Burn on the Idaho-Montana border, the Italian Peaks one of the more remote parts of Montana’s Continental Divide, the Gravelly Range near Ennis, the Gallatin Range by Bozeman, the Crazy Mountains by Livingston, the Big Snowy Mountains by Lewistown, the Pryor Mountains by Billings, and East Pioneer Mountains south of Butte and the Badger-Two Medicine near East Glacier.

Italian Peaks is one of the more remote wildlands in Montana lies along the Montana-Idaho border in Southwest Montana. Photo Geoge Wuerthner

In Idaho, NREPA will give permanent protection to the Lemhi Range, Lost River Range and Pioneer Range of Central Idaho, the Caribou Range and Palisades by Idaho Falls, Great Burn, Mallard Larkin and Bighorn-Weitus Creek on the Clearwater National Forest, to Scotchman Peaks and Selkirk Mountains in Northern Idaho.

The Lost River Range in Central Idaho contains Idaho’s highest peaks. Photo by George Wuerthner 

Larkin Lake, Mallard Larkin, Clearwater NF, Idaho. Photo George Wuerthner

The Selkirk Mountains n North Idaho near the Canadian border. Photo George Wuerthner

Wyoming roadless areas included in the bill consist of the Salt River Range, Mount Leidy Highlands, and the Wyoming Range near Jackson, among other sites.

The Wyoming Range south of Jackson is included in NREPA. Photo George Wuerthner 

The Palisades WSA by Jackson would garner full wilderness protection in NREPA. Photo George Wuerthner

The Shoal Creek proposed addition to the Gros Vente Wilderness. Photo George Wuerthner

The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act also includes some areas in Oregon like the Elkhorn Mountains, Hells Canyon, Joseph Creek in Eastern Oregon, and the Kettle Range in eastern Washington.

Imnaha River Canyon, Hells Canyon NRA, Wallowa Whitman National Forest, Oregon. Photo George Wuerthner

The bill would significantly contribute towards the Biden Administration goals in their 30 x 30 proposal to protect 30 percent of the US by 2030. NREPA is the best way to protect America’s patrimony and wildlands heritage of the Northern Rockies.





  1. Salle Avatar

    Wow! Thanks for the heads up, George! I didn’t know about this proposed Bill which I support with enthusiasm.

    It’s not just big, it is ultimately necessary for all of us.

  2. Maggie Frazier Avatar
    Maggie Frazier

    Hope & pray this gets passed. With the current “mindset” of the Republicans, I’m sure there will be a battle.

  3. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Yes. Very good news, and a relief.

  4. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    I should add that George’s posts are always beautifully written and heartfelt about our wildlands.

  5. Beeline Avatar

    excerpts from the proposed Act HR 1321

    SEC. 403. Management.

    (a) Restoration.—All lands within the Recovery Areas described in section 402(a) shall be managed so as to restore their native vegetative cover and reduce or eliminate invasive non-native species, facilitate native species diversity to the extent possible with climate change, stabilize slopes and soils to prevent or reduce further erosion, recontour slopes to their original contours, remove barriers to natural fish spawning runs, and generally restore such lands in their entirety to a natural roadless and wild condition.

    from Section 503….
    (b) Prohibition.—After completion of the evaluation required by subsection (a), until Congress enacts a law stating otherwise, no new road construction or reconstruction, or timber harvest (except firewood gathering) shall be allowed in the lands described in subsection (a). In addition, subject to valid existing rights, no oil or gas leasing, mining, or other development which impairs the natural and roadless qualities of these lands shall be allowed on the lands.

    This is one of the best proposed pieces of legislation that I have seen in quite a while. It will need vigorous support because the republicans and state governments will likely fight it. If it can be passed in a timely fashion much of it can be administered during the Biden administration.

  6. Ed Loosli Avatar
    Ed Loosli

    H.R.1321 – Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act already has dozens of co-sponsors.

    Also, this bill contains a very important section that is not found in most Wilderness bills — It allows for the buy-out of a rancher’s livestock grazing allotment, if the rancher is willing to sell it to a conservation buyer, so the acreage can be returned to nature and wildlife – permanently.

    1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
      Maggie Frazier

      That is a biggie! Quite honestly, there should be some “encouragement” for that to happen! NOT for the livestock producer’s making a profit on it either.

  7. Beeline Avatar

    More info: Similar versions of this bill went to legislative committee in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017, and finally 2019 during the 116th congressional session. The previous versions all died in committee. This time there are 44 democratic co-sponsers listed and the House National Resources committee has 26 democrats and 22 republicans. The sub-committee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands is apparently being reformed as I could not find a listing of its members.

    Legislation to actually benefit public land is terribly unpopular with republicans and I imagine that they will do their best to keep this bill from going forward (they have already stalled it six times). To make matters worse the chairman of the house National Resources committee is being investigated for alleged ethics violations. So I am suggesting that folks write or call their representatives on a consistent basis to keep this bill alive.

    1. Ed Loosli Avatar
      Ed Loosli

      Beeline… Please dig deeper to confirm what you wrote about the Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. “To make matters worse the chairman of the house National Resources committee is being investigated for alleged ethics violations.”

      Raúl M. Grijalva (Arizona) is regarded as the best of the best in Congress when it comes to wildlife conservation and he has a spotless reputation. He is also credited with being the major force behind Deb Haaland being appointed to be Sec. of Interior by President Biden.

  8. Beeline Avatar

    According to several sources (Politico and Govtrack) the complaint against Mr. Grijalva was re -opened in 2019 for further review. The complaint, by a previous staffer in Grijalva’s office who claimed that she experienced a hostile work place, was supposed to be resolved in 2018 when the Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics voted 5 to 1 to dismiss the complaint against the congressman. Why the complaint was re-opened later on remains unclear but it is a fact.

    1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
      Maggie Frazier

      Possibly “encouraged” by Republicans? Or am I being too partisan here?

      1. Ed Loosli Avatar
        Ed Loosli

        Maggie; Let’s put it this way, Congressman Grijalva was a key factor in getting Trump’s corrupt Sec. of Interior, Ryan Zinke to resign from office.

  9. Beeline Avatar

    If anyone can stand to watch it there is a 12 part video posted on youtube of the 2009 debate on this bill. Just write in Northern ROckies Ecosystem Protection Act in search. Republicans show there expertise at obfuscation and democrats their expertise at generality. If the reader has not witnessed bureaucracy in action here is your chance.

  10. Opsec Avatar

    Really??? Does EVERYTHING have to be politicized? Does anyone here subscribe to ethos beyond politics? While I endorse the concept of this legislation, I am suspicious of the motives only because our government (both sides) have repeatedly lied to us for decades. The details are of interest to me… will outdoor enthusiasts, hunters, fishers, horseback riders have access to these areas or will they be off limits too? We have allowed government encroachment to curtail our abilities for too long. Add corporate greed to the mix and you have a recipe for disaster (kinda like where we are now…).

  11. Ed Loosli Avatar
    Ed Loosli

    Opsee: You ask, “…will outdoor enthusiasts, hunters, fishers, horseback riders have access to these areas or will they be off limits too? When you say “too”, what exactly do you mean? All Wilderness Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Federal Roadless Areas are open to hunters, fishers and horseback riders and other outdoor enthusiasts like photographers and back-packers. Importantly, this also holds true for the new Wilderness Areas proposed in this bill. Note: There are no new national parks designated in this bill, which sometimes are off-limits to hunters.

    What these new Wilderness Areas will not be open to is oil/gas drilling, pipelines, industrial mining, commercial logging, vehicle roads and machines.

    1. Opsec Avatar

      Good to know – thanks!


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