Road Warriors

If you live in the Helena area or follow the Montana Wildlife Federation on Facebook, you’ve been seeing some advertisements about H.R. 1581, the Wilderness and Roadless Release Act. This bill would strip protections from roughly 5.3 million acres of critical wildlife habitat in Montana, and over 60 million acres nationwide.

MWF has a demonstrated track record going back to 2000 supporting Roadless Areas, and the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Their board of directors has frequently voted unanimously to stand up and fight for elk and mule deer habitat by preserving what we have in terms of migration corridors and security habitat intact. 

So what’s so bad about H.R. 1581? For one, it’s a top down decision made by lobbyists and politicians to address a non-existent problem. Proponents of the legislation claim that this is about access. 

H.R. 1581 is not about access. It’s about removing the public from our public lands, and giving them over to those who put short term profits ahead of our hunting and angling legacy. Ninety percent of the lands affected by the legislation are within 2 miles of an existing road. Roadless areas are the places that we drive up to the edge of, park our rigs and hunt on foot. They are the accessible "middle ground" between wilderness like the Bob Marshall and the roaded front country, providing good wildlife habitat and great walk-in hunting for the average foot hunter who likes to get out for day hunts on the weekend. Furthermore, roadless areas are managed for multiple use, allowing firewood cutting, game carts, OHV riding on established trails, timber management to mitigate fire risk, habitat management for wildlife, and even oil and gas development on existing leases....the only thing the government can't do is build new roads.

Studies show that hunter success rates are higher in unroaded areas (25%) than in roaded areas (15%). (Gratson and Whitman, 2000); elk occur in greater densities in roadless areas compared to roaded areas. (Thiessen, 1976); higher road densities cause a reduction in the length and quality of the hunting season, loss of habitat, over harvest and population decline of elk. (Lyon and Vasile, 1980); and that one result of road construction is the decreased capacity of the habitat to support elk due to decreased habitat effectiveness. (Leptich and Zager, 1991) 

Montanans have long said they wanted these areas unchanged. Over decades, there have been exhaustive processes both at the state and federal level that have reached the same conclusion…– the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule is the law of the land.

Any threat to roadless areas is a threat to hunting and fishing opportunity in Montana. Montana Wildlife Federation has been actively engaged in the fight to keep the roadless rule since the 1990s.

Unfortunately, beltway politics are now trying to trump existing conservation measures. Primarily, this is in the form of short-sighted, top-down legislation, H.R. 1581. This bill would eliminate protection on approximately 85% of all Inventoried Roadless Areas in Montana, about 5.5 million acres. It's a shame that a Montanan would put their name on this bill

The science is clear: Roadless Areas help protect elk and nurture them. Montanans enjoy over-the-counter elk and deer tags and a chance for mature bulls and bucks because of secure habitat. In a time when elk and mule deer face serious problems from noxious weeds, bad legislation and increased pressure on winter range, loss of their habitat shouldn’t be one of them.

Roadless areas are also source of clean water that feed our blue ribbon trout streams. Even if you never set foot in a Roadless Areas, you benefit from them.

Some folks have pointed out that other bills would release Wilderness Study Areas. This is true. But those efforts started on the ground floor, and were tested with boot leather and horse sweat to determine if they truly should be wilderness, or released from further consideration. 

The Montana Wildlife Federation has long believed that when we deal with forests in Montana, it should be the folks who live, work and play in those lands who determine the uses. H.R. 1581 takes away that trust that has been built within these existing collaborations, and puts us back to square one when dealing with appropriate uses in specific areas. 

That’s a raw deal for Montana, and it’s a raw deal for hunters and anglers. If you’d like to learn more about the science behind Roadless Areas, visit their micro-site

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Hellgate Hunters and Anglers
Our Mission is to conserve Montana's wildlife, wild places, and fair-chase hunting and fishing heritage.