Block the Continental Divide Firing Range!

April 17th, 2004 - by admin

Sam Dorsi – 2004-04-17 10:18:04

A new proposal threatens Canadian Lynx habitat and the continental divide wildlife corridor.

The Montana Army National Guard has submitted a request to the Helena National Forest to construct a biathlon range on MacDonald Pass in the Garnet Range of Montana.

The proposed construction site is located roughly 1500 meters from the continental divide at a bottleneck in the migration corridor, where National Forest land is squeezed down to a strip of forested land only a few kilometers wide.

Lynx and other Creatures at Risk from Gun Range
Lynx, among other species, are known to avoid crossing large clearings, and thus must rely on the bottleneck of cover for passage through the area. Also in danger from the proposed construction are an aspen grove and the marshy seep that feeds it — the plan calls for a portion of the grove to be cleared for a parking lot.

The National Guard could hardly have chosen a worse spot in the Garnet Range for their biathlon range. The aspen, spruce and fir that fill the development site provide habitat for black bear, elk, moose, mule deer, coyote, and may offer habitat to mountain lion or to the threatened Canadian Lynx, whose habitat extends over this region.

A proposed bridge would cross a riparian area with a small stream which runs within sight of the development, and construction and later use of the site would impact animals hoping to reach the water.

Live Fire and Development
Perhaps most seriously, the development may impair animal movement along the continental divide corridor. The corridor of forested land bottlenecks down to a 4-5 kilometer strip, with the development planned for the very center of the corridor.

The National Guard plans on firing live rounds at the site, thus for animals disturbed by noise, the impact area of the site will be much further than the site footprint.

The proposed facility, which would be built on National Forest lands, would consist of a parking area, 50-meter low-caliber shooting range, three or four buildings, a toilet, a quarter mile of new road, and fifteen kilometers of trails.

Electrification of the Site
The proposal calls for electrification of the site and the clearing of 16 acres of conifer and some aspen forest — 6 acres for the main site and an additional 10 acres for the trail system. The range site will be closed to public use.

This is not the only possible site for the new biathlon range — other locations can offer similar challenging terrain and forest cover, however this site is more prone to negative impact than others.

The new vehicle traffic, influx of National Guard skiers, and the disturbance of frequent gunshots will reduce the quality of this area as forested Rocky Mountain habitat, as a bridge in the continental divide corridor, and as an area for quiet recreational use.

I was only informed of this proposal last week, and the public comment period soon draws to a close: April 30th is the deadline for public commentary.

The Forest Service has asked that comments on this proposal be sent to:

Larry Cole Helena Ranger District 2001 Poplar Helena, MT 59601 (406) 449-5490

If the environmental community has a sufficiently strong voice. I believe we can block the construction of this firing range. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like more information, and please look over the photos and maps of the site below. I hope that you will write Larry Cole to recommend against this proposal.

Sam Dorsi, 416 Miller St. Helena, MT 59601 (406) 461-5298

More information, including maps &photos at: