FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Saving the Lionhead Wilderness

Unnamed lake in Lionhead proposed wilderness looking north to peaks in Lee Metcalf Wilderness. Photo by George Wuerthner.

One of the most outstanding wildlands on the Custer Gallatin National Forest is the 43,759-acre proposed Lionhead Wilderness. The Lionhead lies along the Continental Divide and rises up above  Hebgen Lake near West Yellowstone. The Madison River and Quake Lake on the north, while Targhee Pass on the south and Raynold Pass on the west all delineate the boundaries of this area. It is the southernmost extension of the Madison Range which are sometimes referred to as the Henry’s Lake Mountains.  Part of this roadless area exists on the Targhee National Forest and Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forests.

There is some history associated with the area. Targhee was a Bannock Indian chief. The Bannock tribe along with others like the Nez Perce used his namesake pass as one of the routes traveled to and from the bison killing plains east of the mountains in Montana and Wyoming. Raynold’s Pass is named for Captain William F. Raynolds. Raynolds who was a leader of an Army expedition of the Topographical Engineers across South Dakota, and portions of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana in 1859-60 that was led by famed mountain man Jim Bridger. Henry’s Lake is named for Andrew Henry who co-owned the Rocky Mountain Fur Company which employed Jim Bridger, Jedidiah Smith, the four oldest Sublette brothers, including William and Milton, Jim Beckwourth, Hugh Glass, Thomas Fitzpatrick, David Edward Jackson, Joseph Meek, among other famous mountain men whose names now litter topographical features throughout the West.

Coffin Lake in Lionhead proposed wilderness. Photo by George Wuerthner.

The Lionhead area rises from around 6,000 feet along the Madison River to over 10,611 on Lionhead Peak. The mountains are composed of sedimentary rocks that have been uplifted along several faults. Glaciers have created several lakes and tarns, as well as spectacular cirques. The sedimentary layers are unstable and an entire mountainside gave way during the 1959 earthquake which shook loose tons of rock into the Madison River to create Earthquake Lake.

The Lionhead is characterized primarily by Douglas fir forests at lower elevations with Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, and lodgepole pine at higher elevations. There are extensive aspen groves as well. Numerous meadows break up the forest stands and have spectacular flower blooms in summer.

The vegetation diversity supports all the larger mammals known to exist in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem including grizzly bear, wolves, bighorn sheep, moose, elk, mule deer, and wolverine. Westslope Cutthroat Trout known to occur within 9 miles of stream. The area could also support wild bison if they were ever permitted to roam freely by the Montana Dept of Livestock.

There are 18 miles of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) within the Lionhead proposal and several other trails including Targhee Creek (Idaho side) Sheep Creek and Coffin Lake.

Looking towards Madison Range (Lee Metcalf Wilderness) from Lionhead Proposed Wilderness. Photo by George Wuerthner.

The area has long been proposed for wilderness to protect the critical linkage as a migration corridor for wildlife. Grizzly bear, wolverine, wolves, moose, elk, among other species are known to use the Lionhead as a movement area. It is an important corridor connecting to the Centennial Range and the Continental Divide other large wild areas further west in Central Idaho.

Demonstrating its significance as wildlands, the 1987 Gallatin Forest Plan recommended 22,800 acres as wilderness. This proposed wilderness lies adjacent to additional roadless lands on the Deerlodge Beaverhead NF and Targhee NF that are also proposed for wilderness, making the final size of this area much larger.

One really has to see this as part of the greater whole. With the adjacent lands in the southern Gallatin Range (Porcupine Buffalohorn) and adjacent parts of the Madison Range including the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, but also the Cabin Creek area, the entire area is one of the most critical and important wildlife corridors and habitat in the northern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Wilderness is the gold standard for protection, and the Lionhead, along with these other areas should be designated as wilderness under the 1964 Wilderness Act.

Threats to this area include proposed logging and new roads along the base of the mountains, as well as increasing mountain biking use of trails (mountain bikes and other mechanical access is not allowed in wilderness areas). Hopefully, the Custer Gallatin National Forest will once again recommend wilderness for this area in its soon to be released forest plan.

More articles by:

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

Weekend Edition
July 03, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Peter Linebaugh
Police and the Wealth of Nations: Déjà Vu or Unfinished Business?
Rob Urie
Class, Race and Power
John Davis
A Requiem for George Floyd
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mutiny of the Bounties!
Richard D. Wolff
Revolutionary Possibilities: Could U.S. Capitalism Turn Nationalist?
Richard Falk
When Rogue States Sanction the International Criminal Court
Louis Proyect
Smearing Black Lives Matter…From the Left
Ralph Nader
Trump and Pence – Step Aside for Professional Pandemic Scientists and Managers
Ramzy Baroud
Tearing Down the Idols of Colonialism: Why Tunisia, Africa Must Demand French Apology
Philippe Marlière
Challenging the French Republic’s Color-Blindness
Richard C. Gross
Attack, Deny
Lee Camp
Connecting the Dates – US Media Used To Stop The ‘Threat’ of Peace
Steve Martinot
The Desire to Kill
David Yearsley
The War on Kitsch
Amy Eva Alberts Warren – Rev. William Alberts
Why are Certain Christians Democratic and Others Authoritarian?
Lawrence Davidson
Covid Madness
Brian Cloughley
Britain’s Disorder and Decline
Ellen Taylor
The US Military Has Its Knee on the Throat of the World
David Rosen
White Nationalists on the Attack
Jeff Cohen
Politicians of Color Should Not be Immune From Criticism
Joseph Natoli
Drawn Away from Reality in Plain View
Frank Joyce
Give Me Liberty,  Give You Death
Jonah Raskin
My Adventures in the Matriarchy
Paul Street
The Racist Counter-Revolution of 1776
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Corruption of the Democratic Party: Talking to Ted Rall about his new book
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Trump’s Record on Foreign Policy: Lost Wars, New Conflicts and Broken Promises
Paul Edwards
A Bridge Too Far
Jennifer Joan Thompson
How to Do Things With Theses: Chile’s National Police Force Sues the Feminist Artistic Collective, Las Tesis
Shawn Fremstad
Vacations for All!
Thomas Knapp
A Modest Proposal for Compromise on “Confederate” Military Bases
Vijay Prashad, Eduardo Viloria Daboín, Ana Maldonado, and Zoe PC
Venezuela’s Borderlands Have Been Assaulted by COVID-19
Thom Hartmann
COVID Masks: The Latest Faux Conservative Outrage
Jesse Jackson
Mandatory College Football Practices in Time of Pandemic are Nuts
Nicholas Vincenzo Barney
Consensus Politics on the Fringe: The Intellectual Dishonesty of the Intellectual Dark Web
Ted Rall
The Data is Clear: Progressives Should Boycott Biden
Theresa Church
In Reconsidering ‘Normalcy’ Genetically Engineered Trees Do Not Belong
Chelsea Carrick
Let’s Not Lose Momentum
Adam Rissien
Sorry Secretary Perdue, Our National Forests are Not Crops
Arshad Khan
India and China Tussle on the Roof of the World
Paul Gilk
A Few Theoretical Percentages
Thomas S. Harrington
“New Corona Cases”:  A Phrase That’s Tells us Very Little, if Anything,  About the Actual Levels of Danger We  Face
Claire Chadwick
I Got COVID-19 at Work. I Won’t be the Last
George Wuerthner
The Upper Green River Should be a National Park, Not a Feedlot
Julian Vigo
Profiteering in the Era of COVID-19
Ravi Mangla
Policing is Not a Public Good
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail