Today we spotlight our service project in the broken and beautiful Mission Mountains of Montana, often called “America’s Alps.” Towering mountains, glacial lakes, clear cold streams and majestic falls are a few features of this area. The Wilderness protections of the Mission Mountain Range is unique in the nation, as it is composed of two adjacent designated wildernesses, one federal and one tribal. For centuries upon centuries, the Flathead and Pend Oreille people hunted, fished, gathered berries, and even went on vision quests in these rugged mountains. In 1979 the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes of the Flathead Nation designated the western slopes of these tribal lands as Wilderness, the only self-established Tribal Wilderness in the nation. In the words of the committee that protected the land (an effort led by three deeply dedicated grandmothers or “yayas”):
“These mountains belong to our children, and when our children grow old they will belong to their children. In this way and for this reason these mountain are sacred.”
The wilderness management of this rugged range is thus divided between the Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Flathead National Forest. The WV service project will focus on the Mission Mountains Wilderness within the National Forest – 73,877 acres managed by the Swan Lake Ranger District. This beautiful stretch of protected land runs 30 miles along the crest of the Mission Mountains on the eastern edge of the Flathead Indian Reservation. The area abounds with beautiful wildflowers and a wide variety of trees including western red cedar, ponderosa pine, western whitebark pine, douglas fir and even the unique alpine larch. There is abundant wildlife throughout the land, including moose, coyote, wolverine, elk, deer, lynx, bobcat, marmot, rabbit, mink, more than 50 species of birds, and many, many more. The king of these forests, however, is the grizzly bear.
The grizzlies have made this land their home long before Europeans reached this continent and they continue to seek refuge in these mountains. Every year bears gather on the glacial fields of McDonald Peak to gorge on insects, as well as the delicious huckleberry that is enticing to bears and hikers alike. From mid-July to October, all 12,000 acres of tribal lands are closed to public use for the bears’ protection.
The specific work of the service project will be decided by the partnering Ranger District after the snow melts and the damages from the harsh northern winter can be assessed. We will backpack in and likely camp by a clear glacial water source to allow access to cooling dips as well as to offer a chance to enjoy the bountiful fishing of the area. We’ll have pack animal support for our tools and kitchen supplies, as we work to restore trails and campgrounds after a rough, cold Montana winter. Learn more about WV’s service project in the Mission Mountain Wilderness.