How Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness was Created

Bob Marshall Red Buttes Walllooking out on the Bob Marshall Complex with Red Buttes Wall directly bellow In 1897, President Grover Cleveland established the Lewis and Clark Forest Reserve under the provisions of the Forest Reserve Act. At that time the reserves were administered by the Department of the Interior. In 1905, the Forest Service was created along with the Department of Agriculture, and in 1907 the Forest Reserves became known as National Forests. Until 1910, Glacier National Park was part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest Reserve; then the area was given national park status.

On Aug. 16, 1940, Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace designated the 950,000-acre Bob Marshall Wilderness, which was formed by combining three previously designated National Forest Primitive Areas – the South Fork, established in 1931; the Sun River, established in 1934; and Pentagon, established in 1933.

The boundaries of the original primitive areas seem to have been determined by hydrological divides. The South Fork of the Flathead, the Sun River and the Middle Fork of the Flathead are the three major drainages in the area. The Pentagon Primitive Area often was called the Big River Primitive Area, a name commonly given to the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.

The following is wording from the original Forest Service document recommending the designation of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area:

A great “back country” mountain and mountain-valley territory lying astride the Continental Divide in the Flathead and Lewis and Clark National Forests in western Montana, as more definitely shown on attached map.

The area includes and is bounded coincidentally with the limits of “primitive areas” of several years standing established-under Regulation L-20:

            South Fork – designated May 20, 1931.

            Pentagon – designated October 18, 1933, enlarged July 5, 1939.

            Sun River – designated February 23, 1934.

These will continue to be called the South Fork Unit, Pentagon Unit and Sun River Unit of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, with minor changes of boundary to insure that the titles are truly significant.

Establishment of a wilderness area composed of these three primitive area units will involve no present change in requirements, since the particular restrictions added, at the time of their designation, to the restrictions under Regulation L-20, bring the provisions well within the requirements of Regulation U-1. Advertisement and 90 days notice will not be necessary. The condition imposed, as no. 7 in the designation of February 23, 1934, for the Sun River Unit, making the designation subject to the existing First Form Reclamation Withdrawal, will, of course, continue.

The aggregate acreage will approximate 950,000 – area largely unsurveyed, the figure cannot be more precise. Of this aggregate, approximately 8% in odd-numbered sections in the extreme southwest part is alienated.

There is no demand for timber. Range use by domestic stock is limited to saddle and pack animals. The tract is of highest importance for watershed protection, especially on the Atlantic side of the Divide.

The country has great and outstanding natural and primitive allure, which has attracted constantly increasing numbers of visitors even before its primitive area designation. Inspiring are the spectacular scenery and undisturbed naturalness of the less rugged main stream valleys. Despite substantial use in some spots, wild life and good fishing continue abundant everywhere.

The Sun River and South Fork Units are already quite well known nationally as well as locally by all interested in wilderness areas. Local public sentiment has staunchly supported establishment of the primitive areas, and no questions are expected in regard to the change here recommended.

This area was one of the first in which “Bob” Marshall made his explorations and hikes in this region. He was largely instrumental in its continuance in primitive condition. It is one of outstanding and well known wilderness areas that was among the earliest designated. It conforms fully to the ideal conception of a wilderness area. A worthy monument, indeed, does it make to his memory.

Appropriate favorable action is recommended to redesignate the existing areas into one wilderness area as indicated.

signitures from original document

Map of Bob Marshall Country

Rick and Susie Graetz | Department of Geography | University of Montana