Rocky Mountain Front in Montana.
Photo: Sam Beebe, flickr.
The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act could give Montana its first newly designated wilderness area in 30 years, as a public lands bill containing that and other protections was passed unanimously out of a Senate committee on Nov. 21.
The legislation, introduced by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) in early 2013 and now co-sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), would add 67,000 acres to the eastern fringe of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area and the Scapegoat Wilderness Area, and set aside additional space for a Conservation Management Area buffeting it. The newly protected zones run along the Rocky Mountain Front, a wedge of land in Montana's Crown of the Continent region where the majestic limestone contours of the Rocky Mountains give way to lake-dotted plains.
Progress on the bill, which would permanently protect new Montana wilderness for the first time since the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area in 1983, has been marked by a spirit of bipartisan cooperation, following years of grassroots-led efforts on the ground that incorporated hunters and anglers, local businesses and conservation interests alike.
The Rocky Mountain Front area. Photo: Sam Beebe, flickr.
Approaching the Rocky Mountain Front. Photo: Jocelyn Catterson, flickr
In addition to wilderness area, the act's proposed Conservation Management Area territory would allow continued mountain biking, motorized recreation, grazing and other activities on over 208,000 acres of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land. Another component would help fight noxious weeds, benefiting ranchers, sportsmen and private landowners.
If Congress passes the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, it will serve as a heartening reminder that public lands stewardship remains a core national value, eclipsing politics.