Jumping for joy at the sight of Mt. Jefferson, on the ancestral lands of the Shoshone-Bannock and Eastern Shoshone (Photo Credit: Keili Bell)
Update (3/12/2021): The Caribou-Targhee National Forest rejected the temporary special use permit. Read more and send them a thank you here.
The Caribou-Targhee National Forest is about to issue a permit for commercial heli-skiing on the north side of Mt. Jefferson and several of its neighboring peaks in the Centennials (click here to read the scoping letter).
The Centennial Mountains form the border between southwest Montana and Idaho — that little squiggly bit of the Continental Divide just west of Yellowstone. They’re the epic peaks you see north of the highway if you happen to be driving through Island Park, Idaho (when it’s not snowing). Most eye-catching of all is Mt. Jefferson: the highest in the range and the ultimate headwaters of the Missouri River.
The Forest Service is poised to permit commercial heli-skiing on and around Mt. Jefferson with little regard for how this will harm the Centennial’s unique wilderness and wildlife values, or impact established winter recreation uses in the area.
Impact on Winter Recreation Usage
The Mount Jefferson area provides excellent winter recreation opportunities. On the Montana side of the Divide, the BLM-managed Centennial Mountains Wilderness Study Area (WSA) and Forest Service-managed Hellroaring Recommended Wilderness Area (RWA) provide a non-motorized setting for backcountry skiers seeking to explore Mt. Jefferson and its neighbor, Nemesis Mountain. The Hellroaring Hut, nestled on the flanks of Nemesis Mountain, provides skiers with a cozy home base for multi-day adventures.
Outside the non-motorized area — especially on the Idaho side of the Divide — the Centennials are part of an expansive snowmobile playground, with terrain ranging from steep mountain slopes to groomed trails through endless forest. Skiers and conservationists have fought for years to preserve the WSA and RWA as places of quiet refuge in an otherwise motorized landscape, and we continue to work each winter to ensure that the non-motorized boundary is enforced and respected.
The Centennials are also critical for wildlife. Mt. Jefferson forms the eastern gateway to the High Divide wildlife corridor, an irreplaceable connection between the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem and wildlands of central Idaho, made possible by the unique east-west axis of the Centennial Mountains. Big game species including elk, deer and moose find secure, productive habitat in this remote region as do rare carnivores including wolverine, lynx and grizzly bears.
Skiers, snowmobilers, and wolverines agree – the Centennials are no place for helicopters!
In sum, while there’s room for many kinds of winter recreation in the Centennials, helicopters don’t belong in the mix. Helicopter noise doesn’t respect state lines or non-motorized boundaries. Even at the hut, in the Centennial Mountains WSA, backcountry skiers will be able to hear the thump thump of rotors. That pervasive noise is one reason helicopters are known to be a huge disturbance to wintering wildlife. Furthermore, adding heli-skiing to a landscape where the Forest Service already struggles to manage motorized use will only cause more problems. Nobody wants heli-skiers dropping in on top of them, especially in a place with a notoriously sketchy snowpack.
Use the form below to send a letter to the Forest Service before January 15, 2021, telling them to deny Rocky Mountain Heli’s request to operate in the Centennials.