Roadless Forests - the Heart of the Hunt

By Ben Long

Come hunting season, what are you hunting for?

Meat? Sure, but you can buy beef at any supermarket.

Antlers? Maybe, but there are easier hat racks.

I hunt for something difficult to express on paper, but I’ll try: I hunt for a profound feeling of freedom and solitude. I hunt for pure, unfiltered time with family and friends, as is our tradition. I hunt for a chance to drink from the pure, cold spring of Nature.

Those are the things I track though the November snows, as certainly as I track a fat cow elk for the freezer or stalk a gray-muzzled mule deer buck for the wall. And that’s why I hunt in Montana’s roadless areas.

Roadless areas are where I find all these things. At least for now.

Often, hunters don’t call them by their Forest Service jargon “roadless areas.” We call them “secret spots” or “hidey holes” or our “favorite mountains.” We guard them jealously, sharing them only with our closest friends.

There is a mountain on the Kootenai National Forest that I have climbed, rifle or bow in hand, perhaps 40 times over the past 10 years. About once a season, it has provided me with an elk or a deer and sometimes both. It’s fairly loaded with game, including some bruiser bucks and bulls, and is absolutely devoid of roads. This is no coincidence. Security is a basic function of wildlife habitat, along with providing food and water. Roadless lands provide the kind of security big game needs to thrive.

This is no secret among savvy outdoors folks. As the September, 2004, Field & Stream reported: “Roadless areas may harbor twice the number of bull elk than roaded terrain holds … Roadless areas often boast a population of 30 percent mature bulls.” (See Where the Wild Things are in this newsletter.)

Truth is, if you only want to hunt whitetail deer, you can set up a tree stand under a New Jersey freeway exit. But if you want to hunt elk, mule deer, mountain lion, bear, bighorn sheep and mountain goat, roadless areas serve you well. If you want to cast for cutthroat or bull trout, your sport benefits from the clean, cold water provided by roadless areas.

If you want challenge, solitude, freedom, and Nature, then please stand up for roadless areas.

For decades, the Forest Service was the largest road-building agency in North America. Miles of quiet forest trails were lost under the blade of a D-9 Cat. Finally, in the 1990s, the agency said “enough.” It had more roads than taxpayers could afford to maintain.

“There may be some very rare exceptions, but basically we have built roads anywhere they made any damn sense,” says former Forest Service chief Jack Ward Thomas.

This issue should have been settled years ago. But for political reasons, it’s still alive. President Bush wants governors to decide whether to “opt in” to protecting roadless forests.

Here’s my message to the Forest Service and western governors: Hunters like Montana’s backcountry just the way it is. We like our best, most secure wildlife habitat, just fine. We like our hidey-holes, our secret spots, our favorite mountains and our cleanest trout streams exactly like they are. Leave them alone.


— © Ben Long —
used by permission of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers


Ben Long is a journalist, a wildlife activist, the author of two wildlife-themed books, and the northern Rockies program director for Resource Media. He also serves as editor and board member of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

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