LETTER: Montana BHA opposes granting mining claim holder motorized access in Inventoried Roadless Area (IRA)

April 3, 2018

Michael Welker, District Ranger
Townsend Ranger District
415 South Front Street
Townsend, MT 59644

Subject: Teddy Bar 1 Project          

 

Dear Ranger Welker:

 

I’m writing this letter on behalf of the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA), based in Missoula, Montana.

The Montana Chapter of BHA represents more than 1,500 sportsmen and women across our state. Our mission is to ensure North America's outdoor heritage of hunting and fishing in a natural setting, through education and work on behalf of wild public lands and waters.

Montana BHA is strongly opposed to the Townsend Ranger District granting the operator/claim holder motorized access into the Irish Gulch Inventoried Roadless Area (Irish Gulch IRA) for a recreational placer operation. 

The Big Belt Mountains are a narrow and heavily roaded range, the vast majority of which is accessible by motorized vehicle. The Irish Gulch IRA is one of relatively few lower elevation areas in the Belts where the public can hunt in a non-motorized setting. It is also an area that actually holds elk on public land during hunting season, something that is becoming more of a rarity each year. 

Allowing the claim holder ATV access to his recreational mining operation via non-motorized trails, cross-country travel, and closed roads will set a bad precedent for others seeking exclusive access and simply invite further motorized trespass into this area. 

In the late 1990s the claim holder had permission to easily access his Thomas Creek claim (by motor vehicle) by crossing a private ranch. It is our understanding that the claim holder left trash and abused his motorized privileges by driving around on the ranch, not simply accessing his placer claim. He also used his motorized access to drive behind closed gates on USFS property. Montana BHA also notes that the claim holder has since received a warning for trespassing on the ranch from the Meagher County Sheriff.  The operator/claim holder has a history of being a bad actor. There is no reason to believe he will not use his ATV to hunt and or otherwise pursue his own agenda in the Irish Gulch IRA, not simply access his placer claim. 

As you know, in 2011 the Meagher County Conservation District and USFS were the recipients of a $162,000 Reclamation and Development Grant from the Montana State Legislature. The work accomplished under this grant helped restore surface water to a 1200-foot reach of Thomas Creek, thus benefitting wildlife and fisheries in the Irish Gulch IRA. The operator/claim holder will be utilizing an undisclosed amount of water from the creek for his mining operation. Please note that BHA does not want to see the successfully restored reach of Thomas Creek jeopardized by recreational placer activity.

It is BHA’s belief that the operator/claim holder should access his claim via non-motorized means (foot, horse, bike) just like all other recreationists using this section of national forest managed for non-motorized use under the 2001 Big Belts Travel Plan. We ask that you deny the operator/claim holder’s request to access his claim via motorized vehicles.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

 

Steve Platt

Capital Board Member

Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

About Steve Platt

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