Lewis and Clark National Forest
|Lewis and Clark National Forest|
IUCN category VI (protected area with sustainable use of natural resources)
|Nearest city||Great Falls, MT|
|Area||1,863,788 acres (754,248 ha)|
|Established||February 22, 1897|
|Governing body||U.S. Forest Service|
Lewis and Clark National Forest is located in west central Montana, United States. Spanning 2,800 square miles (7,300 km2), the forest is managed as two separate zones. The eastern sections, under the Jefferson Division, is a mixture of grass and shrublands dotted with "island" pockets of forested areas. Here, cattle leases to local ranchers as well as timber harvesting are the norm. The western Rocky Mountain Division which straddles the Continental divide, is more oriented more towards preservation, primarily because much of the land has been designated as wilderness. Forest headquarters are located in Great Falls, Montana. There are local ranger district offices in Choteau, Harlowton, Neihart, Stanford, and White Sulphur Springs.
The forest lands were originally created in 1897 which makes this forest one of the oldest forest preserves in the U.S. The forest is named in honor of the members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which passed through the forest between 1804 and 1806. Prior to that the region was inhabited by Indians for a period of at least 8,000 years and when the expedition first came to the area, the Blackfeet, Sioux, Cheyenne, Flathead and Crow Indians all utilized the forest for hunting and as protection from the winter.
Altitudes range from 4,500 feet (1,400 m) to the top of Rocky Mountain Peak at 9,362 feet (2,900 m). The forest is divided into seven separate sections and encompasses eight mountain ranges; the Judith, Big Snowy, Little Snowy, Crazy, Castle, Little Belt and Highwood Mountains. The westernmost section includes portions of the Scapegoat and the Bob Marshall Wildernesses, and also borders Glacier National Park, which is to the north.
The western Rocky Mountain Division consists of a dense coniferous forest and has numerous species of spruce, fir, larch and pine. The Jeffereson Division is dominated by ponderosa and lodgepole pine which prefer a dryer climate. The Grizzly bear and wolf are found in the western sections of the forest, and are especially dense in the designated wilderness areas. In addition, the western section contains much of the wildlife present when the Lewis and Clark Expedition first passed through the region. Mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk, mountain lions, lynx, wolverines and black bears are most common nearest the Continental divide. In other sections of the forest, black bears, mule deer and white-tailed deer are the largest mammals found. Throughout the forest, Bald Eagles, grouse, peregrine falcon and red tailed hawks are increasing in numbers. Lakes and streams are more numerous in the western section due to a higher altitude and more precipitation and are home to the rare westslope cutthroat trout, which may become one of the latest endangered species. In the 1,600 miles (2,600 km) of rivers and streams in the forest, Rainbow trout, brook trout and northern pike are relatively common however. Excellent fly fishing opportunities are plentiful, especially in the Smith River.
There are 29 vehicle-accessible campgrounds to be found on the Lewis and Clark National Forest. Two ski areas also operate within the forest. Almost 1,500 miles (2,400 km) of hiking trails provide access to remote locations in the seven different mountain ranges over which the forest presides. Solitude is most common in the Crazy Mountains and in the wilderness areas near the Continental divide. Summertime average high temperatures are in the 70s °F (20s °C), but the winter can be very cold, especially in the more exposed eastern sections and snow can linger for up to 10 months of the year along the Continental divide.
The forest lies in parts of thirteen counties. In descending order of land area they are Lewis and Clark, Meagher, Judith Basin, Teton, Cascade, Pondera, Fergus, Wheatland, Chouteau, Glacier, Golden Valley, Sweet Grass, and Park counties.
The forest was established on February 22, 1897 as the Lewis and Clarke Forest Reserve under the management of the General Land Office. On June 9, 1903 the Flathead Forest Reserve was added, and on March 2, 1907 the spelling was changed to Lewis and Clark, land was added, and the forest, which was transferred to the U.S. Forest Service in 1906, became a National Forest. On April 8, 1932 the entire Jefferson National Forest was added, which itself comprised the former Little Belt, Crazy Mountain, Snowy Mountains, Little Rockies and Highwood Mountains National Forest. Finally, on July 1, 1945, part of Absaroka National Forest was added.
- "Land Areas of the National Forest System". U.S. Forest Service. January 2012. Retrieved June 25, 2012.
- "The National Forests of the United States". ForestHistory.org. Retrieved June 25, 2012.
- USFS Ranger Districts by State
- Table 6 - NFS Acreage by State, Congressional District and County - United States Forest Service - September 30, 2007
- Davis, Richard C. (September 29, 2005). National Forests of the United States. The Forest History Society.
- "Lewis and Clark National Forest". U.S. Forest Service. Retrieved 2006-07-08.