Habitat Project:

Weber Gulch

Teaming up with the Forest Service to keep a roadless area roadless high in the southern Cabinet Mountains.

Image of Weber Gulch. Light snow on trees.
Photo by Gael Bissell.
Image of Weber Gulch. Light snow on trees.
Photo by Gael Bissell.
Map of Weber Gulch
 
Map of Weber Gulch
Photo by Gael Bissell.
Photo by Lance Schelvan.
Photo by Gael Bissell.

Weber Gulch PROJECT BRIEF

We hear plenty of talk these days about public land becoming private. How about the other way around?

Weber Gulch represented a unique strategic project for Vital Ground, in which we acquired a crucial private inholding within Montana’s Lolo National Forest then turned the land over to public hands.

“It’s only forty acres,” says U.S. Forest Service biologist David Wrobleski, “but the negatives of a road or house up there would affect a lot more than forty acres.”

That’s because the Cube Iron-Silcox Roadless Area, a key habitat buffer at the southern edge of the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem and federally-designated grizzly bear recovery zone, surrounds the parcel. And beyond disrupting wildlife connectivity, private development of the property—namely, road construction to it—would have taxed the Forest Service hugely, requiring many hours of federal oversight and necessitating road closures elsewhere in the grizzly bear recovery zone in order to maintain density requirements for the protected area.

So in partnership with the Forest Service, Vital Ground targeted the parcel and raised the funds to buy it from a private owner considering development. The purchase preserved not just valuable mid-elevation habitat for bears, elk, deer and moose, but also the wild character of a popular local hiking and hunting area, with a Forest Service trailhead farther down Weber Gulch providing public access to the steep drainage and the vast roadless area beyond.

The last step was only logical. With roadless Forest Service land surrounding the parcel—land already managed to aid grizzly bear recovery—we got to play Santa Claus this time. Transferring the acreage to Lolo National Forest completed the effort to protect this special area overlooking the Clark Fork Valley as both a public resource and a sanctuary for wildlife.

Weber Gulch at a Glance

  • 42 acres; surrounded by U.S. Forest Service's Cube Iron-Silcox Roadless Area
  • After purchasing inholding, Vital Ground transferred it to U.S. Forest Service
  • Located at southern edge of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Cabinet-Yaak Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone
  • Important mid-elevation habitat for deer and elk overlooking Clark Fork Valley and Bitterroot Range