Joint press statement from members of the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front on passage of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act

Joint press statement from members of the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front on passage of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act

December 12, 2014


  • Karl Rappold, rancher, Dupuyer: (406) 450-8925
  • Dusty Crary, rancher and outfitter, Choteau: (406) 781-3216
  • Gerry Jennings, Montana Wilderness Association, Great Falls: (406) 788-5099
  • Peter Aengst, The Wilderness Society, Bozeman: (406) 581-9825
  • Dave Chadwick, Montana Wildlife Federation, Helena: (406) 438-6478

The Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front celebrates passage of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act in the Senate today.

Passage of the Heritage Act means that one of Montana’s most iconic landscapes is now permanently protected. It also means that Montana has it first new wilderness designation in more than 30 years. This is a victory for all Montanans, an enormous boon to the state’s magnificent outdoor heritage, and a testament to nearly two decades of hard work and compromise by local people, businesses, and organizations who came together to craft the right bill for this special place.

The Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front – an organization of ranchers, hunters, anglers, outfitters, guides, local business owners, Tribal members, public officials, conservationists, and other Montanans – thanks our entire congressional delegation, including former Sen. Max Baucus, Rep. Steve Daines, and Sen. John Walsh, who worked to see the Heritage Act introduced, moved through the congressional process, and now finally passed. We’re especially grateful to Sen. Jon Tester, who worked tirelessly to usher this bill past the finish line.

The success of the Heritage Act serves to remind us that great things happen for Montana when the state’s entire congressional delegation works together in advancing Montana-made solutions for protecting our outdoor heritage.

Background and facts regarding the Rocky Mountain Heritage Act

Former Senator Max Baucus first introduced the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act in October 2011 with Sen. Jon Tester as a co-sponsor. Senators Baucus and Tester reintroduced the bill in the Senate in 2013. The bill was passed unanimously through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in November 2013. The House of Representatives first introduced the bill as part of a public lands package attached as a rider to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015. This package includes 95 other lands bills.

None of the main provisions of the Heritage Act have changed significantly since the bill was first introduced.

The Heritage Act includes three main components:

  1. The addition of 67,160 acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex

  2. The designation of a “Conservation Management Area” for the remaining 208,112 acres of federal lands on the Front. This is a custom-tailored designation intended to keep the Front as it is, allowing existing uses to continue. It also allows motorized uses to continue on a limited number of designated roads and trails. With both wilderness designation and the creation of the Conservation Management Area, 275,272 acres of the Front will be permanently protected.

  3. A requirement directing the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to prioritize noxious weed management on public lands along the Rocky Mountain Front. With public input, these agencies must develop a new comprehensive plan for controlling noxious weeds on the Front.

At the request of Rep. Daines, language regarding four Montana Wilderness Study Areas was included in the Heritage Act.

This language says:

  • Two Wilderness Study Areas in Southeastern Montana, Zook Creek and Buffalo Creek, totaling approximately 14,000 acres, will be released from WSA status and managed under the relevant Bureau of Land Management Resource Management Plan that is now undergoing revision. It will now be up to the agency, with input from the public and local stakeholders, how these areas will be managed.

  • Two Wilderness Study Areas in north central Montana, Musselshell Breaks and Bridge Coulee, totaling approximately 15,000 acres, will undergo an updated oil and gas assessment within five years. Congress would need to act again to release these from WSA status and allow any surface development in these two areas.