Lewistown RMP: Public Lands Worth Protecting

Elk in Missouri Breaks by Matt Patrias

Elk in Missouri Breaks by Matt Patrias

The BLM is preparing to release a Draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the Lewistown Field Office.

The Lay of the Land

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, waterfowl and upland bird hunting has become more elusive, this landscape – a collection of mountains, coulees, wetlands, and sagebrush – is more important than ever. That is why, as the BLM’s Lewistown Field Office drafts a Resource Management Plan (RMP) for 750,000 acres of public land, MWF is collaborating with conservation partners and local sportsmen to ensure the agency recognizes the need to protect this spectacular habitat for wildlife. The CMR Wildlife Refuge and the Upper Missouri River Breaks are the core of these wild lands.

• 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.

Lewistown Field Office Conservation Priorities Map

What the RMP needs to do

These places can only provide worldclass habitat if the public lands that surround them remain intact and undeveloped. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of prime, undeveloped habitat surrounding the Refuge and the Monument, including Blood Creek, West Crooked Creek, and the Dovetail area above the Musselshell. These places with their naturalness still intact, contain premier habitat and provide 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 management, 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 we have 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, we have a thriving outdoor recreation economy. Big game hunters are filling up at our gas stations, eating in our restaurants, staying in our hotels, and buying from our sporting goods stores. In fact, hunting accounts for nearly $4 million in Fergus and Petroleum County, and that’s just for big game and not bird hunting.

• The BLM must take into account the economic impact big game hunting has on our local economy when it writes its resource management place 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 our economic future at risk.

How to get invovled!

The BLM has an opportunity to 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 outdoor enthusiasts and sportsmen to enjoy.

If you’d like to get involved, contact MWF Eastern Field Rep. John Bradley at jbradley@mtwf.org