Three Rivers Challenge
The Yaak Valley in Northwestern Montana is the most productive forestland in the Rockies, yet mill after mill has shut down over the last decade. Those mills supported families and small businesses. Likewise, local conservationists, who would like to protect special areas, are frustrated, as no new wilderness areas have been created on the Kootenai since 1964. They, too, feel jerked around by decisions made far away.
About five years ago, a small community group, the Yaak Valley Forest Council (YVFC), began informal, open discussions with various stakeholders — conservationists, wilderness advocates, snowmobilers, outfitters, ATV riders, loggers, millworkers, hunters, and anglers — aimed at discussing what each group wanted.
Each group had specific needs or desires. The ATV riders wanted a loop route — not in the wild backcountry — and snowmobilers wanted to continue riding in the few basins where they were currently allowed to legally ride. The vanishing timber industry wanted jobs in the woods. The conservationists wanted wilderness designation for the last roadless lands in the Yaak.
The YVFC agreed to draw the different user areas on a map and see what the map looks like.
Out of these discussions was born a new plan and a new way of thinking in Lincoln County. A new group, the Lincoln County Coalition, and its mission project, the Three Rivers Challenge, were also created as a result of these discussions.
The Three Rivers Challenge draws together wilderness advocates, snowmobile and ATV-riders, outfitters, economic boosters and local loggers and mills. These diverse folks put differences aside and tried to find paths to move the Forest Service and the community forward in forest management.