Keep the Quiet

A case for muted recreation in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge.

Spanning much of southwest Montana, from the West Big Hole to the Madison Range, the 3.3 million-acre Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest (BDNF) encompasses eight mountain ranges and contains some of Montana’s wildest and most rugged country. The towering mountains, vast backcountry, and broad valleys within the BDNF also provide some of the best wildlife habitat in the state.

 Beaverhead Deerlodge, Montana Wilderness Association
Beauty and silence: two dwindling natural resources.

But BDNF’s current forest plan, dating from 2009, puts many critical areas at risk, including Mount Jefferson, the shoulders of the Anaconda-Pintler, the high basins of the West Pioneers, and other wildlands, where a growing number of Montanans go to enjoy the solitude and quietness that a dwindling number of places now offer these days. The plan also fails to protect the winter range and other habitat that big game depends on.

The Forest Service is taking another look at the plan and has the opportunity to amend it. The plan needs to be amended, or else we could end up degrading some of Montana’s wildest country and undermining the quiet outdoor traditions that support the local economies of southwest Montana. With increasing frequency, Montanans are choosing to quietly recreate in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge. According to a recent Beaverhead-Deerlodge supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, more and more people are choosing to cross-country ski in the Forest than snowmobile, with cross-country skiing accounting for 12.2% of use and snowmobiling a mere 1.7% of use.

Beaverhead Deerlodge, Montana Wilderness Association
No noise pollution here.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ Region 3 is where half of Montana’s elk harvest occurs, and much of that region falls within the Beaverhead-Deerlodge. The hunting is so good that the BDNF landed a spot on Field & Stream’s list of top-ten places in the nation to hunt elk. More than just an elk sanctuary, the Forest also serves as an important corridor for sensitive wildlife migrating between Montana’s high divide country and the vast wilderness areas of central Idaho. And yet, the Forest Service’s plan leaves 91% of the Big Hole winter range, 83% of the north side of the Flint winter range, and 77% of the Pioneer winter range open to snowmobile use. That’s not what Montanans would consider balanced use.

Now you have a chance to make a big difference for Montana’s wildlife and wild places. Until March 3, the BDNF is taking a forest-wide look at the impacts of snowmobiling and other forms of winter motorized recreation on some of our finest backcountry, and they need to hear from you.

Here’s what we’re asking the Forest Service to do:

  • Protect Mount Jefferson and the ultimate headwaters of the Missouri River by keeping the upper Hellroaring Creek drainage to the Continental Divide motor-free.
  • Eliminate snowmobiling in Sullivan Creek and around Barker Lake on the shoulders of the Anaconda-Pintler.
  • Significantly decrease the amount of winter range open to snowmobile use. That includes the Big Hole and the north end of the Flint Range.
  • Keep the high basins of the West Pioneers – including Bobcat Lakes, Lost Horn Mountain, and Grouse Lakes – quiet for current and future generations of outdoor enthusiasts. 

Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest Map

Montana’s largest national forest is big enough of snowmobilers, bow hunters, hikers, snowshoers – for all of us who enjoy the Forest. Please encourage the Forest Service to adopt a common-sense amendment that balances recreation with quiet wildlife habitat and winter range for big game. The deadline for commenting is March 3, 2016.

Email comments to Jan Bowey at [email protected] or snail-mail her at Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest All Units, 420 Barrett St., Dillon, MT 59725-3572.

Sally Cathey is the Montana Wilderness Association’s southwest Montana field director. This op-ed originally appeared on

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