PHILLIPS COUNTY NEWS - 7/6/11 Flight Over Bittercreek WSA

Jul 6, 2011

The Phillips County News, Malta, MT

Wilderness society takes local
media on flight over Bittercreek,
anticipating new RMP release


By Heidi Hansen
PCN Intern

An aerial view of the Bittercreek WSA taken during a flight with EcoFlight and the Wilderness
Society. The glaciated plains provide important habitat for birds and other animals,
along with nice recreational oportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, like outdoor columnist
Parker Heinlein, who also went on the flight. photo by Heidi Hansen


Looking out the window of a
six-seater plane as it flew out of
Phillips County past Glasgow
and circled around the Bittercreek
Wilderness Study Area,
the pilot commented that Bittercreek
doesn’t look too dramatic
from above.


But the 59,000 acre WSA,
while comprising less than
one percent of all BLM land in
Montana, has been at the center
of much controversy and indecision
over the last 30+ years.


In anticipation of a new resource
management plan for the
Bittercreek WSA being released
later this year, the Wilderness
Society hosted a flight over Bittercreek
with representatives
from several media outlets.


In an effort to promote values
of environmental conservation,
the flight was offered for free by
the non-profit group EcoFlight,
whose mission is to give passengers
“a chance to see the bigger


From above, Bittercreek is
distinguished from the surrounding
prairie and farmland by its
small hills and green grass, but
it’s hard to spot the actual creek
or the birds, such as Sprague’s
pipit or McCown’s longspur,
which use it for refuge.


The undeveloped rolling
grasslands of Bittercreek have
made headlines numerous
times, and will soon see another
round on the front pages of local


While the 1989 recommendation
by the Bureau of Land Management
to congress, for Bittercreek
to receive “no wilderness”
status still stands, congress has
yet to make a decision one way
or another, meaning Bittercreek
is likely to remain a wilderness
study area for years to come.


“We’re going to manage it in
the interim,” said Rich Adams,
BLM Malta Field Office Manager.

“We haven’t allowed anything
to happen that would preclude
it becoming a wilderness
area someday.”


A draft of the RMP will be
released later this year, if things
go according to plan. Once released,
it is opened for a 90-day
comment period to hear concerns
from the local and national
public. Once comments are
taken, a final decision is made,
but parts of the plan may be held
up in court for years if someone
sues, Adams said.


“The upcoming RMP process
presents a chance for those that
media may have portrayed as
enemies in the past to work together,”
said David Madison,
Northern Rockies Communications
Manager for the Wilderness


With over half a million members
in the Wilderness Society,
Madison said they would hope
conservation values will be put
on the same level as rancher or
development values when the
debate unfolds.


“No matter what our political
beliefs are,” Madison said, “if
we hunt or enjoy outdoor recreation,
we can come together in

A common issue many hold
with conservation efforts is the
fear economic opportunities are
being lost. Currently managed
as multiple-use by the Bureau of
Land Management, this means
use of the land to drill for oil is
restricted in order to preserve its
use for animal habitat and recreation.


“We believe you can’t have
multiple-use without conservation,”

Madison said, “and conservation
doesn’t have to come
at the expense of jobs or economic

Madison questioned whether
there were any viable development
opportunities for the land,
but said he feels “there’s really
some harmony going on as it is,
there is grazing on the land and
great hunting and the potential
for future development if needed.”


In explaining why he feels it’s
important to preserve the Bittercreek
land, Madison said “We
get too caught up in ‘it’s not the
Grand Canyon or Glacier National
Park’ so we should just
extract resources to meet our
immediate needs but the land
still has value.”


He said mule deer, antelope
and bird life have all benefited
from the Bittercreek habitat,
along with pollinating insects.


“You won’t get people up
in arms to save pollinating insects,”
Madison said, “but we
are losing pollinating insects at a
rapid rate due to loss of habitat.”
Pollination is important to the
growth of crops, such as alfalfa.


Adams said as usual, the RMP
will present five alternatives for
land management with themes
from most restrictive to no action
to industry friendly, while
the BLMs preferred alternative
will be something that takes into
account all interests.


“I don’t know how much is
achieved by dwelling on past
fights,” Madison said. “We want
to create a future plan that respects
everyone’s values on the