The Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, in partnership with the Elkhorn Restoration Committee, Elkhorn Working Group, and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, wants to remind all forest visitors that there is currently a motorized road closure in effect for many of the main roads in the Elkhorn Mountains.
The annual motorized seasonal closure is in effect until May 15, which includes major access roads such as: Weasel Creek (FS Rd. #405), Indian Creek (FS Rd. #4031), and Crow Creek (FS Rds. #424 and #621). These areas remain open for non-motorized use.
The Elkhorn Mountains are managed in partnership as the Elkhorn Cooperative Management Area by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Within the Forest Service, the Elkhorn Mountains are designated and managed as a Wildlife Management Unit, the only one of its kind.
In 1995, the Elkhorn Mountains Travel Management Plan was signed which put into effect the motorized winter closure for many of the main roads. The areas covered by the December 2nd to May 15th motorized travel closures are wintering areas for elk and other wildlife. “The closures are in place to reduce the impacts to wildlife during this critical time of year,” Elkhorn Working Group Chairman David Brown said.
According to Adam Grove, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’s wildlife biologist for the Elkhorns area, “Forage quality is typically poor during the winter and early spring time periods, so animals are often dependent upon the body fat reserves they accumulated prior to entering the winter season to survive through the winter. Disturbance places stress on wildlife, and the more they are disturbed during the winter and early spring, the more body fat they burn through. This potentially impacts not only their ability to survive, but also in the case of females, to produce healthy viable offspring later in the spring. This winter in particular has been tough on critters with the prolonged deep snow and persistent cold temperatures.”
While winter weather conditions are often not as harsh in April and May, elk, deer, and other wildlife still remain vulnerable to stress brought on by motorized intrusion through much of the spring as they begin to rebuild energy reserves lost during the winter.
In addition to impacts to wildlife, many of the roads are of natural surface (such as dirt) and the Forest Service wants to make sure they are not impacted. Funding for road maintenance is limited, and it is beneficial to protect the structural integrity of the roads during the spring wet season.
“The ultimate goal is to protect the incredible resource values that so many of us cherish in the Elkhorn Mountains,” Townsend District Ranger Mike Welker said. “And these seasonal closures help us do that.”
Anyone operating a motorized vehicle in violation of the seasonal closure are in violation of 36 CFR 261.13. Penalties can include a $5,000.00 dollar fine, six months in jail, and impoundment of your vehicle. Please visit the Townsend District Office to ensure understanding of the seasonal closure and areas are affected. The district office has copies of motor vehicle use maps available. For more information, contact the Townsend Ranger District at 406-266-3425.