Certain Montana wildlands have been in the news a great deal recently, namely our Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs). These are classified as undeveloped federal land with characteristics of designated Wilderness protected by federal law. Montana currently has seven WSAs on US Forest Service land (about 634,500 acres); and 37 WSAs on Bureau of Land Management lands (almost 450,000 acres). WSAs cannot be part of the National Wilderness Preservation System until the US Congress passes Wilderness legislation; however, they must be managed as wilderness until they are designated or released from such consideration.
In 1977, Montana Senator Lee Metcalf passed federal legislation to create nine Montana Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) on US Forest Service land. The lands contained within two of these WSAs were later designated as either Wilderness, Wildlife Management Areas, or released from consideration as Wilderness. The remaining seven areas still carry the WSA designation, which means the US Forest Service must manage them “so as to maintain their presently existing wilderness character and potential for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System.”
In December 2017, Senator Steve Daines introduced federal legislation to eliminate 449,500 acres in five of Montana’s Wilderness Study Areas found on US Forest Service land. According to the Great Falls Tribune, Senator Daines described these areas as “improperly managed public lands.” The title of the bill, the Protect Public Use of Public Lands Act, raised questions in conservation circles.
Here are what wilderness advocates say are the most important reasons to oppose Senator Daines’ bill—and why these lands should be maintained as Wilderness Study Areas:
drinking water to nearby communities. In addition, Montana is blessed with some of the healthiest population of elk and other big game animals in North America, and these creatures rely on WSAs. Clean water flowing from these lands also feeds our blue-ribbon trout streams. Local economies depend on these areas to sustain their communities and the outdoor recreation economy.
When the time comes, we will be calling on you to help stop Senator Daines’ bill that releases many of our state’s Wilderness Study Areas!