Bitterroot National Forest

Bitterroot National Forest is made up of 1.587 million acres in west-central Montana and eastern Idaho, of the United States. It is located mostly in Ravalli County, Montana, but also as acreage in Idaho County, Idaho, and Missoula County, Montana.

As it was founded in 1898, it is located in the Bitterroot and Sapphire Mountains with elevations ranging from 2,200 feet along the Salmon River in Idaho to the 10,157 foot Trapper Peak. Roughly half of the forest makes up part or all of three distinct Wilderness areas. These areas incorporate the Anaconda-Pintler, Selway-Bitterroot and Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. The distinction is that in wilderness area, no logging, roads, mining or other construction is permitted and all access must be done either on foot or on horseback; even bicycles are not permitted. Hunting, however, is allowed forest-wide including wilderness area.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition passed through some parts of what are now forest lands in the year 1805. After the discovery of gold in Idaho and then in Montana in the 1860s, a number of mining towns were built, some of which are ghost towns. The Nez Perce National Historic Trail passes through a part of the forest as well, following the route of the retreating Nez Perce on their historic path that led from Idaho to north central Montana in the year 1877. Heavy logging and other resource depletion beginning in the 1880s led conservationists to push for the preservation of the forest.

The Bitter Root Forest Reserve was established by the General Land Office on March 1st of 1898 with 4,147,200 acres. It was transferred to the U.S. Forest Service in 1906 and on July 1st of 1908 the name was changed to Bitterroot National Forest with lands added from the Big Hole National Forest and Hell Gate National Forest. Other lands were transferred from Bitterroot to Beaverhead, Clearwater, Nez Perce, and Salmon National Forests. On October 29th of 1934, a part of Selway National Forest was added.

The forest combines both grasslands and forested zones. Grazing rights are leased to private landowners in the lower altitudes where grasses and shrublands are most dominant. Higher up, Douglas fir, larch, and lodgepole pine slowly give way to Engelmann Spruce and whitebark pine as the altitude increases. Above the treeline at 8,000 feet the trees abruptly end and alpine flowers and grasses are found. A small grizzly bear population is located within the wilderness zones of this forest with mountain goat, black bear, bighorn sheep, elk, and moose are found forest-wide. An active effort to reintroduce the grizzly bear to this region concluded in 2000 with a plan to release 25 bears into the wilderness zones over a five-year period starting in 2003.

There are 1,600 miles are trails and 18 improved campgrounds within this forest. Outstanding fishing is found is the dozens of rivers and streams and lakes. The headquarters are located in Hamilton, Montana. There are local ranger district offices in Darby, Stevensville, and Sula. The largest nearby city is Missoula, Montana. The scenic Blodgett Canyon is but one of many steep canyons located within the Forest. U.S. Highway 93 passes through some parts of the forest.

Image Caption: Trapper Peak in the Bitterroot Mountains, Montana/Idaho, United States. Credit: Shanel/Wikipedia