Save Our Cabinets
P.O. Box 152
Heron, MT 59844

 

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THE CABINET MOUNTAINS


The Cabinet Mountains are a mountain range in western Montana and northern Idaho. Spanning eastward from Idaho’s Panhandle to the Mission Mountains of western Montana, much of the range is encompassed by the Kootenai and Lolo National Forests, with the far eastern portion falling within the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation.

 The Cabinet Mountains still harbor islands of wild country that rival any in Montana, but these pockets of wilderness are rapidly disappearing. Past, present, and future prospects of industrialization threaten what remains of the mountain range’s roadless lands. Foot trails to the remote reaches of the backcountry are now frequently being used by motorized recreationists, displacing wildlife, and shattering the solitude.

All is not lost, however, and there is unspoiled wilderness remaining, but now is the time to extend protections to the remaining wildlands.

For more information on roadless areas in the region visit: http://roadlessland.org/map.php?state=mt

 

THE KOOTENAI NATIONAL FOREST AND WILDERNESS

 A significant portion of the Cabinet Mountain range lies within the jurisdiction  of the Kootenai National Forest. The percentage of lands that is unroaded in the Kootenai National Forest is approximately 34%.  By comparison, 80% of the lands in the Bitterroot National Forest are roadless, and in the Gallatin National Forest that amount is 86%. The Kootenai also has the smallest percentage of wilderness of any national forest in Montana with only 4% of the 2.2 million acres currently protected. By comparison, the Bitterroot National Forest is approximately 47% wilderness. There are 43 Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRAs) in the Kootenai, totaling almost 640,000 acres. Noteworthy are the East Face and West Face, and Galena IRAs.  These wildlands are adjacent to the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness and would be critical additions to a wilderness that has been besieged by multiple mining proposals throughout its 45-year history.

For more information on protecting roadless areas in Montana, visit http://www.wildrockiesalliance.org/issues/nrepa/
 

THE CABINET MOUNTAINS WILDERNESS

The Cabinet Mountains Wilderness is located in the Kootenai National Forest, approximately 15 miles southwest of Libby, Montana in the northwestern corner of the state. This area contains some of the most beautiful sub-alpine scenery in western Montana. Elevations range from 3,000 feet to 8,738 feet atop Snowshoe Peak. Variety best describes the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness with its  high, rocky peaks often snowcapped year-round crowning canopied valleys that harbor groves of huge cedars thriving in a temperate rainforest climate. Hidden in the peaks and ridges are scores of deep blue lakes, feeding clear, cold streams that tumble to moose country below.

When the Wilderness Act of 1964 was passed, the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness was one of the nation’s first ten wilderness areas to receive protection.  Today, the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness remains the sole wilderness area in the Cabinet Mountains Range and in the 2.2 million-acre Kootenai National Forest. Unfortunately, this wilderness has been continuously plagued by the threat of hardrock mining. Two massive mining projects have been proposed that would operate beneath and adjacent to this wilderness. The Rock Creek and Montanore mines would include numerous surface intrusions and impacts, with support facilities rimming the border. Expanding the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness is absolutely essential. This wilderness is only 94,360 acres and needs to be enlarged to offset the ongoing mineral threats near its borders.  Annexation of the East Face, West Face, and Galena Inventoried Roadless Areas also would add habitat for the dwindling populations of grizzly bear, lynx, wolverine, mountain goat, and other species that are threatened by industrialization and motorized recreation.
 

  THE LOLO NATIONAL FOREST AND WILDERNESS

The middle portion of the Cabinet Mountains is located within the Lolo National Forest. The 2.0 million-acre Lolo National Forest fairs only slightly better with wilderness designation than the neighboring  Kootenai National Forest, with 7% of the forest protected. There are approximately 37 IRAs in the Lolo totaling nearly 750,000 acres. The crown jewel of the Cabinet portion of the forest is the Cube Iron/Mt. Silcox Inventoried Roadless Area near Thompson Falls, Montana. Comprised of mountain peaks and alpine lakes, this IRA was included in the 1988 Montana wilderness legislation that was vetoed by Ronald Reagan. Within the Bitterroot mountain portion of the Lolo National Forest, the Great Burn IRA near Superior, Montana has long deserved protection, but has yet to be included in any proposed legislation.
 

WILDLIFE NEED WILDERNESS


Duckhead  Lake-Cube Iron/Mt. Silcox IRA Lolo National Forest

Threatened grizzly bears, though rarely seen, still wander the entire expanse of the Cabinet Mountain, with the greatest number occurring in the western portion along the Montana/Idaho border. In recent years, the range of the great bear has shrunk in the Cabinet Mountains because of loss of habitat and encroaching civilization. Two copper/silver mines proposed for the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness could impact over 35,000 acres of the bear’s already limited habitat. Numerous other small mining projects in the region would further isolate the bear and sever essential travel corridors.

The threatened lynx can still be seen in the Cabinet Mountains, but the loss of habitat is beginning to have a significant impact on the region’s population. The wolverine and fisher also find a home in the Cabinet Mountains, but their elusive nature and habitat loss are causing these species to become increasingly rare. Less than 200 wolverines survive in Montana and only a handful remain in the Cabinet Mountains. Even with such dwindling numbers, Montana is the only state outside of Alaska still  allowing the trapping of wolverines. The declining numbers of wolverine and fisher in Montana and Idaho, make them long overdue for listing under the Endangered Species Act. 

For more information on these endangered species and efforts to save them see: http://www.earthjustice.org/    


THE PIKA


Pika in Engle Peak-Cabinet Mountains Wilderness 

The pika has been described as “the cutest mammal in the world.”  Weighing about 5 ounces, it has a hamster-like body, and the face of a rabbit.  Although superficially appearing to be a rodent, pikas are not related to rodents. Rather, they are members of the mammalian Order Lagamorpha that includes rabbits and hares.

Sometimes referred to as rock rabbits, pikas make their homes in talus slopes found at the highest elevations in western North America, Asia, and parts of Eastern Europe. In the Northern Rockies, including the Cabinet Mountains, they can be found scurrying along rock strewn cliff faces that are in some of the wildest and most remote areas.  

Like rabbits and hares, pikas are herbivores.  Their favorite foods include grasses, sedges, twigs from shrubs commonly found in boulder fields, and flowering plants such as fireweed.  Active during the winter months, pikas harvest plant material in the summer and fall and cure it to last through the winter.  The “hay” is stashed in piles under overhanging rocks and in crevices.  Although some of the plants contain toxins, the toxins help keep the hay from spoiling and break down over time rendering the plants safe to eat.  Pikas know which plants contain toxins and these are eaten last.  Hay piles are closely guarded from neighboring pikas that occasionally raid each other’s stashes. 

 Pikas live in large colonies and communicate with several types of vocalizations including a warning call that can accurately be described as “eek.” This is given at the approach of aerial predators including hawks, eagles, and owls.  

 Young pikas are born in May and June.  Females produce two litters a year with two to six young per litter.  The young mature in less than two months and live an average of three years.

 Pikas appear to be intolerant of warm temperatures and their distribution is limited by the occurrence of rock talus and boulder fields at upper elevations. There is evidence that global climate change is pushing them to ever increasing elevations and towards eventual extinction.

PIKAS DENIED PROTECTION UNDER ESA

Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)  denied a petition to list the pika under the Endangered Species Act.  A listing of “threatened” or “endangered” would have established protections for this small mammal that has lost much of its habitat from warming of the mountain west.  The pika would have been the first species listed under the ESA due to the impacts of climate change.  In denying protection for the pika, the USFWS admitted that the numbers of pikas are declining but asserted that the pika would either adjust to the warmer temperatures or move to higher elevations.  The assertion that pikas will adjust to warmer temperatures is scientifically unfounded and based purely on wishful thinking. They may be no more able than polar bears to adjust to warmer temperatures.  Unfortunately, high elevation habitat is limited, and, if suitable, it is likely already occupied by pikas.  Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for this species, and if their downward trend continues, it may not be possible to reverse it in time.

This USFWS is expected to review the status of another high mountain mammal, the wolverine. The wolverine has suffered from habitat loss, trapping, and the warming of its mountain home.  Will the USFWS use the same logic to deny protection for the wolverine?

The evaluation process of petitions to list species under ESA must always be science based. Is the USFWS  denying protections based on the perceived potential hardships that might be incurred by industry proposing new developments?  For more on the pika and this decision see: http://unearthed.earthjustice.org/blog/2010-february/feds-wont-protect-pika-climate-change

Although the pika is likely to continue to decline in number if something is not down to reverse habitat loss, they can still be observed in the Cabinet Mountain Range in the large boulder fields bordering many of the lakes or at the tops of mountains.

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If you are interested in becoming a supporter or would like more 
information,  we can be reached at: 

Save Our Cabinets
P.O. Box 152
Heron, MT 59844
406-544-1494

[email protected]

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