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The Place

Great Burn Map

The Great Burn Study Group (GBSG) mission area encompasses 1.8 million acres of national forest land that straddle the Montana-Idaho state line in the northern Bitterroot Mountains between Lolo Pass and Lookout Pass. This landscape encompasses 42 roadless areas that provide a mosaic of charred snags, intact forests and woodlands, riparian streamsides, lakes, open meadows, shrublands, tundra, and rocky barren areas.

Forest Plans for the Lolo and Clearwater National Forests recommend 275,000 acres in Montana and Idaho for Congressional designation as the Great Burn Wilderness. The 255,700-acre Mallard Larkins roadless area in Idaho is managed in part as recommended wilderness and in part as a 13,948-acre “Pioneer Area.” The Forest Service manages the remainder of the GBSG mission area under a variety of protective strategies and allowable uses.

Ecology

Habitat Connectivity:The GBSG mission area is strategically situated within a much larger complex of undeveloped ecological landscapes in the northern Rocky Mountains. (Crist, et al 2005)Elk   It provides a “stepping stone” of connectivity between the Central Idaho Ecosystem to the south and the Glacier National Park-Bob Marshall ecosystem to the north. A large percentage of the landscape within those systems is currently protected by wilderness, national park, or national wildlife refuge designation. The GBSG mission area is one of the larger land segments that does not yet enjoy formal protection from development. For more information, see Crist, et al.

Wildlife: The area serves as a home for many wildlife species that require large blocks of secure habitat to thrive. Rocky Mountain elk, whitetail and mule deer, mountain goat, grey wolf, cougar, and black bear are some of the more notable species on the landscape. Smaller carnivores such as fisher, wolverine, and the threatened Canada lynx also range the area.

FishingAfter 60 years without a verifiable grizzly bear sighting, an adult male grizzly, most likely from the Selkirk Mountains, was inadvertently shot here in 2007 by a black-bear hunter. The Fish and Wildlife Service has studied the potential for grizzly bear recovery in the area, and concluded that re-introduction would be a needed step to achieve that end. There are no immediate plans to proceed with re-introduction.

Open hillsides interspersed with pockets of forest provide extraordinary habitat for Rocky Mountain Elk. The legendary Clearwater herd, widely known for its abundance of trophy bulls, relies on this area for summer range.

Water and Fish: Nine designated or recommended wild and scenic rivers arise within this area and drain into the Snake and Clark Fork Rivers en route to the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. These pristine waters provide critical habitat for threatened native bull trout and important strongholds for genetically pure westslope cutthroat trout.

Heritage and Culture

DancersNative Americans: For hundreds of years before the arrival of European explorers, the area was home to Native American tribes including the Nez Perce, Salish, Kootenai, and Coeur d’Alene.  The higher elevations were used on a seasonal basis for hunting and gathering, while travel routes and permanent settlements were located in more sheltered locations.

The Nez Perce (Nee-Mee-Poo) Trail, which follows the Lochsa River and crosses Lolo Pass, lies along the southern boundary of the GBSG mission area. This route was established by repeated use as the Tribe traveled east to hunt for bison. Tribal members also traveled this way in 1877, when fleeing the US Army and its attempts to move them onto a reservation near Lapwai.

The present-day Nez Perce Reservation neighbors the GBSG mission area in Idaho’s Clearwater Basin.

HikersLewis & Clark: In 1805-06, Lewis & Clark and their Corps of Discovery passed along the area following the traditional Nez Perce route above Lolo Creek and the Lochsa River. They crossed Lolo Pass both westbound and eastbound on their journey of exploration between St. Louis, MO and Ft. Clatsop on the Pacific coast.

1910 Fires: The proposed Great Burn Wilderness takes its name from the historic wildfires of 1910. Those fires, which consumed almost three million acres in less than three days, left barren hillsides devoid of commercial timber value.

That historic event, though tragic at the time, had the indirect benefit of allowing the area to recover for a century without penetration by human developments. As 2010 was the Centennial Year for the fires, resources developed for the occasion cast light on the events of 1910 and their long-term implications.

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