Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest

The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is the largest of the National Forests in Montana of the United States. Covering 3.36 million acres, this forest is broken into 9 separate sections and extends across 8 counties in the southwestern region of the state. President Theodore Roosevelt gave a name to the two forests in 1908 and they merged in 1996. The forest headquarters are found in Dillon, Montana. In Roosevelt’s original legislation, the Deerlodge National Forest was called the Big Hole Forest Reserve. He created this reserve due to the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, based in Butte, Montana, had begun to clearcut the upper Big Hole River watershed. The subsequent erosion, aggravated by smoke pollution from the Anaconda smelter, was devastation the area. Ranchers and conservationists alike complained to Roosevelt, who made several trips to the area.

The greatest part of the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness is located in the larger Beaverhead National Forest portion of 2,130,671 acres, which makes up 64 percent of the total area of the forest. The rest of this wilderness stretches into the neighboring Deerlodge and Bitterroot National Forests. The Beaverhead portion includes most of the Pioneer, Gravelly, and Sapphire Ranges. Both the Bitterroot and Centennial mountain ranges are also located here, with the Continental divide found in the Bitterroot Range.

The smaller Deerlodge National Forest portion of 1,227,155 acres, at 37 percent of the total area of the forest, includes much of the Tobacco Root Mountains and Flint Creek Range and portions of the Elkhorn Mountains; it straddles the Continental Divide in the Boulder and Highland Mountains. Numerous ghost towns serve as reminders of the extensive mining history within the region. The Deerlodge part of the forest, located northwest of the Beaverhead portion, lies in sections of Granite, Jefferson, Deer Lodge, Silver Bow, Powell, and Madison counties. There are local ranger district offices found in Butte, Philipsburg, and Whitehall.

Ponderosa pine and a variety of species of fir, spruce, and juniper are the dominant tree species. Almost one-third of the forest lands have no forest at all, and are instead rangeland with grass, sagebrush, and the occasional cactus. The forest is also home to the threatened grizzly bear, lynx, bull trout, bald eagle, Arctic grayling, and the endangered wolf, the latter being a migrant from northern Montana and from the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction program. Moose, mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and black bear are more commonly found.

Image Caption: Lemhi Pass, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Montana, United States. Credit: United States Forest Service/Wikipedia