Friends of the Bitterroot

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Bitteroot Mountains
Bitterroot Mountains
Bitteroot Mountains
Bitterroot Mountains

Roadless Forests: The Heart of the Hunt

"From October/November 2004 issue of Montana Wildlife, the newsletter publication of Montana Wildlife Federation, Montana's oldest and largest organization of hunters, anglers, and concerned citizens."

This autumn, what are you hunting for? Meat? Sure, but you can buy beef at any supermarket. Antlers? Maybe, but there are easier hat racks.

I hunt for something difficult to express on paper, but I’ll try: I hunt for a profound feeling of freedom and solitude.

I hunt for pure, unfiltered time with family and friends, as is our tradition.

I hunt for a chance to drink from the pure, cold spring of Nature.

Those are the things I track though the November snows, as certainly as I track a fat cow elk for the freezer or stalk a gray-muzzled mule deer buck for the wall. And that’s why I hunt in Montana’s roadless areas.

Roadless areas are where I find all these things.

At least for now.

Often, hunters don’t call them by their Forest Service jargon, "roadless areas.” We call them “secret spots” or “hidey holes” or our “favorite mountains.” We guard them jealously, sharing them only with our closest friends.

There is a mountain on the Kootenai National Forest that I have climbed, rifle or bow in hand, perhaps 40 times over the past 10 years. About once a season, it has provided me with an elk or a deer and sometimes both. It’s fairly loaded with game, including some real bruiser bucks and bulls, and is absolutely devoid of roads. This is no coincidence. Security is one of the basic functions of wildlife habitat, along with providing food and water. Roadless lands provide the kind of security wildlife needs to thrive.

If you study the records of the Boone & Crockett Club, the most and best trophies tend to come from areas with ample wilderness or roadless land. Trout Unlimited recently analyzed hunting and fishing opportunity in Idaho and reported that the best elk, deer and bighorn sheep hunting along with the cleanest water for trout and salmon ~are found in roadless areas. I’m sure the same is true in Montana. This is no secret among savvy outdoors folks. As the September, 2004, Field & Stream reported: “Roadless areas may harbor twice the number of bull elk than roaded terrain holds … Roadless areas often boast a population of 30 percent mature bulls.”

Truth is, if you only want to hunt whitetail deer, you can set up a tree stand under a New Jersey freeway exit. If you want to hook a carp or plink starlings, roadless areas are not for you. But if you want to hunt elk, mule deer, mountain lion, grizzly bear, bighorn sheep and mountain goat, roadless areas are the kind of habitat that serves you well. Likewise, if you want to cast for cutthroat or bull trout, your sport benefits from the clean, cold water provided by roadless areas.

If you want challenge, solitude, freedom, a diversity of wildlife and Nature, then please stand up for roadless areas.

For decades, the Forest Service was the largest road-building agency in North America. Miles of quiet forest trails were lost under the blade of a D-9 Cat. Finally, in the 1990s, the agency said “enough.” It had more roads than taxpayers could afford to maintain.

“There may be some very rare exceptions, but basically we have built roads anywhere they made any damn sense,” says former Forest Service chief Jack Ward Thomas.

President Clinton’s Roadless Area Conservation Policy directed the Forest Service to not punch new roads in roadless areas. This seems like common sense, but has unfortunately become a political football. Anyone with a lick of sense can see additional roads are simply unnecessary. (Ask yourself, when you have been hunting or fishing, how many times have you wished for a bulldozer?)

But the current administration reopened this can of worms. So now, we are forced to rehash a debate - an issue that should be closed. Here’s my message to the Forest Service: Hunters like Montana’s backcountry just the way it is. We like our best, most secure wildlife habitat, just fine. We like our hidey-holes, our secret spots, our favorite mountains and our cleanest trout streams exactly like they are. Leave them the hell alone.