Hunting Conservation photo

It might be tough to believe, but Montana hasn’t protected any of its pristine backcountry fish and game habitat as wilderness in over a generation—the last attempt to create wilderness in the Treasure State was vetoed by President Ronald Reagan over 25 years ago. That’s not to say wilderness doesn’t exist outside those areas already protected in Montana —far from it. But politics and a host of factors have come into play, leaving some of the most deserving fish and game habitat in the state essentially unprotected and exposed to various forms of incursion, be it from mining, oil and gas or even just unneeded road construction.

Field & Stream and Trout Unlimited, sensing an opportunity, have rallied behind U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, the product of a collaborative series of negotiations and meetings that will hopefully result in the creation of new wilderness across Montana, including areas in the state’s northwest corner in the fabled Cabinet and Yaak mountains.

To make the effort even more palatable to a vast array of public lands users, the bill also includes a logging component that will put Montanans to work salvaging quality lumber from managed, low-country forests that are feeling the full brunt of the West’s mountain pine beetle infestation, as well as concessions to off-road vehicle and snowmobile enthusiasts who use public lands in the region as well. By protecting new wilderness in the state, Sen. Tester is ensuring the long-term viability of hunting and fishing—these areas are healthy and populated with native west slope cutthroat trout, trophy herds of elk, moose, mule deer and pronghorn, as well as upland game birds like ruffed, blue and spruce grouse. Wilderness, it turns out, is a great place to fish and hunt, and by setting aside irreplaceable public lands under our nation’s highest protective status, we’ll protect our rights to access, fish and hunt in these remarkable places now … and for generations to come.

What’s in the Cabinet-Yaaks?
Fishing assets: Native west slope cutthroat trout, native bull trout, brook trout, brown trout, rainbow trout.
Hunting assets: Elk, deer, moose, bighorn sheep, bear, wolf, lion, ruffed, blue and spruce grouse.
Other: This region rests along the Montana-Idaho-British Columbia border and includes high-priority recreational country for sportsmen as well as off-roaders and snowmobilers. Designating this land as wilderness while conceding other, lower-quality public lands for extractive uses, like logging, makes this effort unique.

Threats: Protecting as wilderness these and other high-quality backcountry areas will prevent unnecessary hard-rock mining and segregate important fish and game habitat from future road or motorized trail incursion. Protecting this area also protects downstream water quality.