Mountain High 

Montana’s massive backcountry roads provide hunters, skiers, hikers, climbers and all sorts of recreationists with unencumbered access to all but a tiny fraction of the state’s wildlands. This awesome matrix of flattened hillsides comes with a price tag, however, providing as it does a similarly effective method for invasive species, poachers, ATVers and any number of ne’er do wells with easy access to what would otherwise be untrammeled country.

Couple this existing (and sagging) road network with a Bush administration hell-bent on ceding protections on millions of acres of public lands to coalbed methane developers and their ilk, and any current road proposals in still-roadless areas should be seen as highly suspect, if not thoroughly intolerable.

Still, Glacier National Park (GNP) plans to construct a new in-the-park road, and they want your opinion on the project.

Sure, the proposed road is temporary, and only a few hundred feet long, but the park service—arguably the most conservation-directed of all federal land agencies—has a mission to conserve scenery, natural objects and wildlife “unimpaired” for future generations. Beware the “slippery slope”; if one little road is allowed here, and another there, soon we have an even bigger web of roads, sloughing off more mountain soil, clogging more trout streams and making the remaining remote places much less so. Red flags should be at full mast.

However, this case appears different. The “preferred alternative” in the environmental assessment (EA) proposes building a road through federal property to allow temporary motorized access to a private lot grandfathered into the park in 1916. The property owner’s long-standing deed actually allows for construction of a permanent road, but the folks have agreed to negotiate.

“The private landowners are willing to waive their deeded access in exchange for the temporary motorized access to construct a non-residential storage structure,” states GNP Superintendent Mick Holm. Assuming that the EA’s preferred alternative is accepted, this honorable relationship will result in happy campers on all sides—following a single season of hauling construction materials, the road will be obliterated and turned into a trail.

“[O]ur goal remains, as stated in the park’s Land Protection Plan, to acquire private land within Glacier National Park on a willing-seller basis,” reiterates GNP supe Holm. No surprise they’re not selling, really—for the opportunity to own property in America’s Crown Jewel, I’d gladly give one of my family’s.

Feel differently and want to comment? Read the EA at www.nps.gov/glac/plans.htm, and then e-mail your written comments before Nov. 28 to: glac_public_comments@nps.gov. Be sure to include your name, address and phone number.

Even bigger things are happening at Montana’s other national park. Government agents killed 231 bison last winter when they migrated out of the park’s protected boundaries en route to traditional wintering grounds. The reason? They carry brucellosis, a bacterial disease long-ago transmitted by cattle to the region’s bison, elk, moose, deer and antelope. Although it has never happened, ranchers fear that their Big Sky bovines might eat the meaty placenta of just-born bison. Although there are no cattle within 100 miles of the bison’s winter habitat, ranchers fear that the vegetarian cows might eat the discarded placental sac, might pick up the bacteria, might lose their brucellosis-free status and might abort their firstborn calves.

Despite the annual slaughter of wildlife by livestock officials, relatively few Montanans have been moved to action. But the state-sponsored killings have pissed off people worldwide, and outraged U.S. representatives enough to introduce a bill last Wednesday that might just halt this obscure practice.

“The basic idea of the bill is that Yellowstone buffalo have just as much right and freedom to roam over federal lands as do any other wildlife,” says Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), a co-sponsor of the bill.

Despite the bill’s increased funding to acquire more land for America’s last free-roaming bison to use their historic winter range, U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) reiterated his un-mooooooving support of killing the otherwise-protected bison when they leave the park. You can tell congressman Rehberg how you feel about your tax dollars funding this cattle-driven wildlife policy by calling his Missoula office at: (406) 543-9550.

Fred Schwanemann will lead a group of Rocky Mountaineers toward, but not to, Stuart Peak on Nov. 16. The no-summit U-turn is planned so that the hiking posse can complete their hike with little fear of being shot by hunters, as they will do an about-face where the Rattlesnake Recreation Area (no hunting) ends and the Wilderness Area (hunting permitted) begins. Although the planned trip shan’t bag the highest, snowiest peak in the ‘Snake, it does follow a beautiful creek through dense stands, wintery meadows and—if you’re lucky—herds of the Rattlesnake’s bountiful whitetails. Call Schwanemann (542-7372) to join the club.

With the recent snows blanketing Montana, more and more folks are skiing in the avalanche-prone backcountry, so watch yourself. And two Montana ski areas—Big Sky and Great Divide—are considering opening in the next few days. Last weekend, Great Divide loaded skiers and riders on the rope tow for free, and Big Sky is considering some lower-mountain skiing on Nov. 13 and 14. So depending on the depth of the dump post-press time, the mountains might be open, but call ahead before you make the trek.

Say your snow prayers, then send your outdoor schedule to: photo@missoulanews.com.

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