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Uncommon ground

Tribes reflect on 30 years of wilderness management

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The Mission Mountain Wilderness celebrated its 30th anniversary last week with bison burgers, reverence, reflection, and respect in the face of profound beauty and true nature. 

Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation Division director Tom McDonald said the tribes bought 93,000 acres of wilderness in 1979. The tribes spent three years studying the flora and fauna to devise the best way to conserve the natural beauty therein. In June of 1982, the tribal council adopted a Tribal Wilderness Ordinance.

“It’s a tutorial on civil culture and a sustainable forest. It’s the best plan I’ve ever seen,” McDonald said. 

The Tribal Wilderness Ordinance is a 10-year adaptive plan, meaning it can be changed or amended at any time. The wilderness may be expanded as much as three to four thousand acres in the months to come. 

Twenty thousand acres larger than the federally regulated wilderness on the eastern side of the Mission Mountains, the Mission Mountain Wilderness is also the first-ever wilderness to feature a buffer zone.

McDonald described the buffer zone as 10,000 acres of land owned by the tribes and other private land owners. Established in 1987, the buffer zone benefits both wildlife and people by creating a slow transition into the wild. McDonald said this allows for better protection of all wildlife in the park without the influence of outside forces.

“Animals don’t know boundaries, and in a bear-human conflict, no one wins,” he said. “Trying to stop nature is like trying to stop the wind. It’s much better to live with animals, not against them.”

The Mission Mountain Tribal Wilderness receives no direct federal funding and is the only wilderness to close 10,000 acres of land each year to benefit grizzly bears. 

McDonald explained that each year, the wilderness closes a nearly a tenth of its land to humans so the Mission’s 20-30 grizzly bears can congregate and eat lady bugs and army cutworm moths. These insects provide the bears with an essential source of protein vital to their survival. 

“This wilderness is the first ever and largest tribal wilderness, but it’s also managed for the animals rather than the people,” McDonald said. “Humans don’t need to go up there and eat lady bugs and army cutworm moths; the bears do.”

The long-term goal is to manage not only bears, but all wildlife, forever. McDonald said this includes not only animals, but also grass, trees, fisheries and everything else. 

“I grew up here and learned a lot of my love of the land from my wilderness experiences,” McDonald said. “To connect with the land in such a beautiful place … it’s a renewal. It grounds you into everything.”


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