“I truly believe that the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage proposal is one of the most thoroughly thought out plans I have ever seen. It doesn’t offend anyone or any group in any way. It truly leaves one of the world’s grandest remaining landscapes intact for future generations to experience and enjoy.” -Roy Jacobs, hunter from Pendroy.
Have you ever driven south along the Rocky Mountain Front from Babb, Montana, with Chief Mountain towering from the plains, the peaks and snowfields of Glacier Park staggering off to the west? Or drift down the near-empty highway, pulling over to glass for grizzlies in the distant aspen thickets bonsai’ed by fierce wind, cold temperatures, snow and summer’s parching heat? You can stop in Browning for gas and a Coke before travelling across the ether-clear Badger Creek to the Two Medicine River. Then you can head to the willow-enclosed Dupuyer Creek, passing the signs beckoning you westward at every washboard turnoff — Swift Dam, Blackleaf Canyon, Ear Mountain, Teton River, Sun River. It’s a country vast enough for a lifetime of exploring and then some.
The communities are out east, supporting farms large and small. Fairfield, the malting barley capital of the nation, lies here amid oceans of hard, red wheat blowing in the wind. West is another kind of wealth: the truly wild crossroads where the prairies meet the mountains. It is excellent cattle country, with protein-rich native grasses watered from high mountain snowpack. Montana’s biggest elk herd lives there, along with mule deer and pronghorn. And in the strange swamps called fens that dot the landscape, whitetail bucks are growing old and hermit-like in places almost impossible to reach. In a world of whirling, sometimes out-of-control change, a lot of Montanans and people who love this place from all across the nation come to the Front to experience the American West at its most untamed. The common denominator of those who know the place is a simple request: please don’t change it.
Although it has been opposed by some more-polarized environmental groups, the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act stands the best chance of achieving something close to that goal. The Front is the place where my wife and I are raising our family. It’s where we fish and hunt with our children, study the night skies and the day breaking on the white cliffs of the mountains, where we struggle with winter and try to pay the bills and listen to the wind blowing over some of the best country left on earth. It is no accident that the Front is the way it is. People have taken good care of the land here, and the Heritage Act is a continuation of that stewardship.
I am in the backcountry all this week but I wanted to share this announcement with readers. I’ll be writing on the details of this cutting-edge conservation strategy — looking into the hunters, backcountry horsemen and ranchers who created it, and why they felt that it was critical to do so — in a future blog post. In the meantime, you can read about the bill here.