The Lolo National Forest just finished pre-scoping for the forest’s updated management plan. Although NEPA has not officially started for this project yet, comments for proposed eligibility within the forest for designated Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers are currently being accepted from the public until May 16, 2023.
There is more than 112 million acres as designated Wilderness which restricts ALL FORMS of use. People often think wilderness is simply the outdoors and nature however congressionally designated Wilderness is a tool to lock the American people out of their public lands. For areas to become Wilderness they have to be passed through Congress and have 5,000 acres of land with no roads. You may think, if there is strict requirements for Wilderness designations then shouldn’t it be black and white on whether an area of land qualifies as Wilderness? What agencies and organizations try to do is close roads so that the areas can later be designated as Wilderness. “Wilderness Laundering” is a process by which administrative changes result in land being managed as wilderness to later be designated as actual Wilderness. Examples of wilderness laundering include designating recommended Wilderness, such as what the Lolo National Forest is currently exploring, Wilderness Study Areas and lands deemed as areas with “Wilderness Characteristics”.
Agencies are often managing our public lands as Wilderness without them being congressionally designated. Wilderness has the most restrictive form of management that you can have on public lands. Sure, “protecting” our pristine landscapes sounds great, however, Wilderness is used to eliminate all roads and access to entire areas of land unless you hike in on your own two feet. More and more of our country will be off-limits to many American’s through these designations.
Within the Lolo NF there is already 4 designated Wilderness areas and recommended Wilderness Areas (RWA’s). The proposal includes expanding the current Wilderness and RWA’s such as the Great Burn RWA which would close off access for snowmobiling from Lolo Pass. This proposal would expand the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness area, Sliderock Wilderness and the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Montana does not need more Wilderness.
The map below provided by the USFS is difficult to read. The proposed wilderness areas are designated by diagonal lines through the boundary area, Inventoried roadless areas have dots and current wilderness areas have checkered lines through the boundary.