Throughout the summer, the members of Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project will be featuring a series of blogs. For more information about Trout Unlimited or to become a member, go to tu.org
• About 16 million of Montana’s 94 million acres (about 17 percent) are U.S. Forest Service Lands.
• Of the 16 million acres of public lands, about 6.4 million acres are inventoried roadless areas or about 40 percent of U.S. Forest Service lands are roadless.
• Only 4.9 percent of U.S. Forest Service Lands are recommended for wilderness
The Big Belt Mountains proximity to Helena, Butte and Bozeman makes it a popular recreation area, not just during hunting season but throughout the year. Located in the center of this range is the Mount Baldy Roadless Area with its namesake mountain rising to 8,900 feet, making it the third highest peak in the Big Belt Mountains.
The Big Belt Mountains are located in the Helena National Forest, east of Canyon Ferry Lake near Townsend. Running north-to-south, the Big Belts are popular with hunters, horsemen, hikers and anglers. At more than 16,000 acres, the Mount Baldy Roadless Area straddles the spine of the Big Belts, making this a headwaters area for two different watersheds. While about half of the roadless area is recommended for wilderness designation, the remaining lands have not been afforded this level of protection. There has also been an interest in oil and gas resources in the Big Belts, with leases being sold near the southern boundary of the Mount Baldy Roadless Area.
The Mount Baldy Roadless Area is divided between two hunting districts, 391 and 446. The regulations for both of these areas offer opportunities for hunting elk and mule deer with over-the-counter licenses. Ample public lands, much of it superb elk habitat, make the Big Belts a popular area during Montana’s five-week general hunting season.
The Big Belt Mountains are also home to native Westslope cutthroat trout, with populations found in streams flowing from the Mount Baldy Roadless Area. In addition to native trout, the headwater lands protected by the roadless area help to provide cool, clean water downstream to two of Montana’s most popular trout rivers, the Missouri River on the west side of the range and the Smith River to the east.