The First Citizen’s Wilderness Bill
For many years, the administration of the National Forest system in the west was one of being a custodian. The main access was by pack-string, and solitary rangers and fire lookouts were the primary people in many of the Forests in Montana.
In the era between WWII and the passage of The Wilderness Act of 1964, pressure to use the timber and to build roads for recreation increased to the point where any roadless land was being considered for developed recreation and timber use. During this time, an area of roughly 75,000 acres of undeveloped Forest was designated The Lincoln Back Country. This area comprised the northern half of the Lincoln Ranger District, and was just north of the town of Lincoln. Farther north, this area was bounded by the Bob Marshall Wilderness
Shortly after the passage of the Wilderness Act, a survey of the Back Country showed negligible timber values, and unforgiving terrain for road building. These drawbacks to development were offset by an abundance of game and fish, including the majestic grizzly bear. These details supported a citizen-initiated proposal for more formal protection of the Back Country.
One important figure in the effort to protect this land was Tom Edwards, a former schoolteacher who had been an outfitter in Ovando for many years.om 1969. he testified before congressional committees and in 1969 gave an eloquent personal testimony on behalf of the Lincoln-Scapegoat:
Into this land of spiritual strength I have been privileged to guide on horseback literally thousands of people-the old, many past 70, the young, the poor, the rich, the great and little people like myself. I have harvested a self-sustaining natural resource of the forest of vast importance. No on word will suffice to explain this resource, but let us call it the "hush" of the land. This hush is infinitely more valuable to me than money or my business . . .
With the support of Cecil Garland, Clif Merritt, and some of the Forest Service administration, Congressman Jim Battin introduced a bill to create the Lincoln-Scapegoat Wildernss. Support was garnered by the two powerful Senators from Montana, Lee Metcalf and Mike Mansfield. In 1969 the bill was briefly put on hold because a mandatory minerals survey had not been done. After the completion of the survey in 1971, the newest Wilderness Area in the United States was created.
This Wilderness is important for many reasons, including the fact that it is the first citizen-initiated Wilderness Area to be created by Congress. Without the passion and knowledge of many of Lincoln’s residents, this would not have been possible.
For a more detailed report on the making of the Scapegoat Wilderness, please read the Forest Service History Series’ publication The Lincoln-Scapegoat - the first de facto bill.