The Heart of Montana
Lewistown District oversees some of the greatest public wildlife habitat in the world
Photo: Alec Underwood
The Lewistown Resource Management Plan decides how BLM land along the Musselshell river breaks and throughout the Lewistown Planning Area will be managed for the next 20-30 years. The region is home to hunting district 410 which is known throughout the nation as one of the best big-game hunting areas in N. America. The area is home to a unique region of undeveloped grassland and island mountain ranges. An intact ecosystem from the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains to the start of the great plains is at risk of unbalanced development.
The Montana Wildlife Federation has been involved in the Lewistown RMP process since 2012. Our recent involvement in the process started with a scoping period back in 2016 where we advocated for a balance between oil and gas drilling and development and conservation. The Lewistown RMP draft came out in the summer of 2019 and concerned Montanans from throughout the region spoke up about the disappointing draft rewritten by BLM workers from DC that never stepped foot on the thousands of acres of critical wildlands that make up this incredible region of central and eastern Montana.
In late February the Final Resource Management Plan (RMP) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was released and there was a 30-day protest period. The final RMP and EIS had a few positive changes from the draft stage but still lacked critical protections for healthy habitat and wildlife.
The Record of Decision (ROD) will most likely be coming out in the summer of 2020 and the management prescriptions of this area will be designated for the next 20-30 years.
Thank you to our members, followers, and partners who have been working tirelessly on this issue for over 8 years!
What’s at Stake?
With the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument at its heart and surrounded by intact backcountry including the headwaters of the Judith River, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Lewistown District oversees some of the greatest public wildlife habitat in the world, and with it, one of America’s strongest hunting heritages.
When access to first-rate big game and upland bird hunting has become more elusive, this landscape – a collection of mountains, coulees, wetlands, grasslands, and sagebrush – is more important than ever. The RMP will guide how the BLM manages over 654,000 acres of public land in the heart of Montana, for decades to come.
Some of the lands in question include over 200,000 acres of undeveloped, wild habitat along the protected (UMBNM, CMR Refuge) river corridor. All in all, it amounts to a stunning, intact river-to-prairie ecosystem: miles and miles of breaks, coulees, cottonwood draws, sagebrush, and short-grass prairie.
What the RMP Needs To Do
These places can only provide world-class big game habitat if the public lands remain unbroken and undeveloped. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of prime, undeveloped habitat surrounding the Refuge and the Monument. These places with their naturalness still intact, contain premier habitat and provide the necessary security for wildlife.
The BLM should manage them accordingly to protect and enhance the role they play as a buffer to the Refuge and the Monument. There are several other important backcountry areas that extend from the river corridors. In these areas, the BLM should manage the land under Backcountry Conservation Areas, a new tool that prioritizes responsible recreation access, habitat restoration and management-including weed treatments, and maintains traditional uses of the land that benefit rural communities. The areas around Arrow Creek, Little Crooked Creek, and Drag Creek are a few examples that would benefit from this kind of prioritized conservation.
- The wild, unbroken character of places such as Chain Buttes, Horse Camp Trail, and Dovetail Creek makes for some of the most productive big game habitat in North America and is one of the biggest reasons why the Lewistown area can boast of some of the best big game hunting in the world. Big game needs big country, and this area has it.
- The wild character and our big healthy populations of big game is the reason why so many people choose to live and visit here. Thanks to those robust big populations, Montana has a thriving outdoor recreation economy. Big game hunters are filling up at local gas stations, eating at area restaurants, staying in hotels, and buying from local sporting goods stores. In fact, hunting accounts for nearly $4 million in Fergus and Petroleum County, and that’s just for big game hunting.
- The BLM must take into account the economic impact big game hunting has on Central Montana’s local economy as it writes the final resource management plan for the Lewistown Field Office. Securing and enhancing wildlife habitat in this uniquely rich landscape will ensure that Lewistown and surrounding communities continue to benefit from one of Montana’s economic cornerstones.
- Elk, deer and other wildlife need wide open, quiet spaces, native range flora, and healthy watersheds. The BLM must prioritize those needs in their new plan.
- The BLM has a choice: the agency can both protect these unique backcountry wildlands and secure our economic future or it can leave the door open to more degradation and habitat loss and thereby put central Montana’s economic future at risk.
The BLM needs to listen to sportsmen and apply smart, landscape-scale conservation in the Lewistown RMP, with wildlife and habitat – as well as the hunting opportunity that they provide – recognized as the highest value of these extraordinary public lands. Whether you have explored or hunted these lands first hand or dream of doing so, it is crucial to protect and conserve this landscape for its habitat and wildlife value for future generations of sportsmen to enjoy.
If you’d like to get involved, contact MWF Eastern Field Rep. Melissa Petrich
At A Glance
The Lewistown Resource Management Plan decides how BLM land will be managed for the next 20 years.
Known throughout the nation as one of the best big-game hunting areas in N. America.
The RMP will guide how the BLM manages over 654,000 acres of public land in the heart of Montana, for decades to come.
Healthy fish and wildlife populations depend on high-quality, intact habitat. The Montana Wildlife Federation works to protect habitat on public and private lands throughout the state. We advocate for scientifically-based land management and conservation of wild lands and wild waters.
Fish and wildlife that have disappeared from other parts of the West are still abundant in Montana. However, the pressures and threats grow greater and more numerous with each passing year. MWF works to advocate for sound science and policies aimed at protecting every species found here, whether it is a nongame, big game, or one of our amazing fish species.
Droughts, fires, and floods associated with climate change will have far-reaching impacts on Montana’s world-class outdoor recreation opportunities, our economy, and our outdoor heritage. MWF fights to protect our wildlife, fisheries, and public lands to mitigate the impacts of these changes and help ensure the future viability of our way of life.
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