The Rocky Mountain Front
Montana can be divided into two geographic areas in general. The eastern 3/5 of Montana is covered by the Great Plains and the western 2/5 of Montana is the Rocky Mountain Region. The Rocky Mountain Region of Montana is covered by flat, grassy valleys and mountains blanketed in fir, spruce, pine, and other evergreens.
Within the northern Rockies ecoregion (or ecological transition zone that provides a sanctuary of unusual suitability for a rare array of wildlife) is the Rocky Mountain Front, one of America's wildest and most majestic stretches of the Rocky Mountains.
The Rocky Mountain Front (the ‘Front’) is a series of mountains stretching for 100 miles from Glacier National Park to Lincoln, Montana that forms one of the most dramatic transitions from peaks to prairies in North America. The Great Plains meets with limestone faces rising thousands of feet out of the prairie.
Two hundred years ago, this territory introduced captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to the quintessential American wilderness. Although much of the landscape throughout the United States has been lost to logging, mining, development, and suburban sprawl, the Rocky Mountain Front is the only region in the lower 48 states that is still home to all the species present at the time of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
The Front is an essential part of one of the largest and most intact wild ecosystems in the United States, an area of 5 million acres. To the west, over the ridges and steep valleys of the Front lie the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Great Bear Wildernesses - approximately 1.5 million acres of wildlands given federal protection by the Wilderness Act of 1964. While these designated wildernesses provide a relatively vast core system of lands secured from development, they also provide only a fraction of the year's habitat requirements for much of their wildlife. As an integral part of the 5 million-acre Glacier National Park/Bob Marshall Wilderness ecosystem the Front is a critical element in one of the largest and most intact wild ecosystems in the United States.
Many endangered, threatened, and sensitive species thrive in the intersection of mountain and grassland found in the Rocky Mountain Front. With the exception of the bison, all of the region's native species still roam there, harboring the country's largest bighorn sheep herd and second largest elk herd. The Rocky Mountain Front supports the largest number of grizzly bears south of Canada and is the only place in the lower 48 states where grizzly bears still roam from the mountains to their historic range on the plains. The diversity of wildlife in this area comprises some of the best wildlife habitat in the United States.
In the north, the Rocky Mountain Front includes the 200 square mile (130,000-acre) area that is the Badger-Two Medicine portion of the Lewis and Clark National Forest. The Badger-Two Medicine is named for two crystalline rivers that begin in snowfields and rivulets along thirty miles of the Continental Divide, Badger Creek and the Two Medicine. The Badger-Two Medicine roadless area is the biological centerpiece of a vast wilderness ecosystem as elk, gray wolves, bog horn sheep, moose, lynx, eagles, harlequin ducks, wolverines and others that cross frequently between protected habitats of park and wilderness and the unprotected (from oil and gas exploration) lands of the Badger-Two Medicine. Since this area is home to such large mammals and has such a rich diversity of life, the Front has been called "America's Serengeti."
This area is directly adjacent to Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana and is sacred ground to the Pikuni (Blackfeet) Nation. As an important spiritual retreat for the Blackfeet people, it is known as part of the “Backbone of the World”, the Rocky Mountains. Peaks have legendary Blackfeet names like Morning Star, Poia, Little Plume, Running Crane, Spotted Eagle, Kiyo, Scarface, Elkcalf Bullshoe and Curly Bear.
The Badger-Two Medicine is covered by the Treaty of 1896 (where the Blackfeet ceded land which later became Glacier National Park) and gives Blackfeet tribal members the right to hunt and fish in any portion of the area in accordance with state law and cut wood for domestic use. Blackfeet treaty claims as well as spiritual and cultural uses of the Badger-Two Medicine are pre-existing rights that would continue under wilderness management. Blackfeet tribal members have used the Badger-Two Medicine and it's waters for hundreds of years for vision quests and for other religious and cultural purposes.
In 2002, roughly two-thirds (almost 90,000 acres) of the breathtaking Badger-Two Medicine area along the Rocky Mountain Front had been declared eligible for listing as a Traditional Cultural District in the National Register of Historic Places under the National Historic Preservation Act. "The remote wilderness area is associated with the significant oral traditions and cultural practices of the Blackfoot people, who have used the lands for traditional purposes for generations and continue to value the area as important to maintaining their community's continuing cultural identity," the keeper of the National Register wrote.
In addition to the National Historic Preservation Act, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act says it is the policy of the United States "to protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right for freedom to believe, express and exercise traditional religions ... including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects and the freedom to worship through ceremonies and traditional rites."
The Blackfeet Nation as well as many, many Americans have long recognized the natural values of this land called the Rocky Mountain Front. With such exceptional habitat and world-renowned hunting and fishing opportunities, sportsmen, hikers, land managers, ranchers and others have worked for many decades to preserve the Front's wildlife legacy. Locals and visitors alike who have viewed the Front, even from a distance, have some idea of why so many care so deeply about it. It is here, where the Rocky Mountains decsend to the prairies and among the bighorns, elk, grizzlies, and other wildlife, that you discover the essence of Montana, the “Land of the Shining Mountains”.