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Dr. John Weaver Calls Flathead a "Flagship Forest"

  July 1, 2014 Dr. Weaver calls the Flathead National Forest a "flagship forest" and aptl y so. As he writes in the summary of his new Wildlife Conservation Society report: "The Flathead National Forest has been at the forefront of conservation in America for more than 80 years. Here on the Flathead, the Forest Service provided some of the earliest protection of wildlands in the United State by designating a 'Primitive Area' [in what is now the Bob Marshall Wilderness]."

[Download Dr. Weaver's report here]

Dr. Weaver cites the unique history of the FNF for being the steward of the Bob Marshall, Great Bear, Mission Mountain Wildernesses, as well as the three forks of the Flathead River, all part of the National Wild and Scenic River system since 1976. Indeed, for more than 100 years, "successive generations of citizens and government leaders" have worked to conserve this critical piece of the public trust.

The Flathead National Forest is both caretaker of this conservation legacy and the flagship of modern conservation nationwide among all national forests.

Dr. Weaver analyzes data from five of the region's most sensitive or endangered species: the grizzly bear, bull trout, west slope cutthroat trout, mountain goat, and wolverine. His results illustrate and recommends protection for the land area most critical to these species and their ability to survive over the long long term, particularly as the climate changes.

The Flathead National Forest is a stronghold for these fish and wildlife species that have been vanquished in much of their range elsewhere in the U.S. Dr. Weaver's analysis shows that 90 percent of the Flathead Forest has a "very high" or "high" conservation value for at least one of the five focal species.

Dr. Weaver's recommendations call for completing the Wilderness legacy on the Flathead National Forest as well as maintaining security on the Flathead Forest's remaining "roadless lands". Roadless lands account for nearly 25 percent of the best habitat for these species.

Climate change will change habitat conditions on the ground. For example, warmer winters will reduce mountain snow cover and suitable habitat for the rare wolverine - a species highly adapted to persistent snow pack. Reduced stream flow and warmer stream temperatures will diminish habitat for native westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout (that are better adapted to cold waters) while favoring introduced rainbow trout and brook trout.

Dr. Weaver recommends a "strategy for resiliency" in response to climate change that includes protecting and connecting the land areas that have high topographic and ecological diversity and value. This strategy will provide options for animals to move as habitat conditions change.

In total, Weaver recommends 404,208 acres of roadless area on the Flathead Forest for Congressional designation as Wilderness, and another 130,705 areas be conserved in their roadless condition as legislated "Backcountry Conservation." Vital places with particular concentration of present and future habitat include the Whitefish Range adjacent to Glacier National Park and the Swan Range east of Flathead Lake.

"This report will help inform discussions and decisions about future management on the Flathead National Forest," said Dr. Weaver. "These spectacular landscapes provide some of the best remaining strongholds for vulnerable fish and wildlife and headwater sources of clean water. These roadless refugia offer a rare opportunity to complete the legacy of protecting wildlife and wildlands on this crown jewel of the National Forest system for people today and generations yet to come."

It seems to us at Headwaters Montana that our forebears would expect that of our generation, and our children would demand it.