Entry remains free, but the U.S. Forest Service wants to know who’s using the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness and for how long.
Rangers will check hikers for completed permits when they travel the popular backcountry area south of Georgetown Lake. While there are no restrictions on campsite use or duration, the permits serve a couple of functions, according to Forest Service spokesman Brandan Schulze.
“It’s to give us an idea of trends in the area, so we can refine management to minimize impacts,” Schulze said. “But it’s primarily to reach out to people about leave-no-trace principles.”
The backcountry ethic of protecting sensitive ground cover, removing all trash and other evidence of a visit and keeping noxious weeds from invading the wilderness is essential to maintaining the quality of remote areas.
“It’s a beautiful wilderness, and we’d just like to keep it that way,” Forest Service backcountry program manager Deb Gale said. “The A-P is small and narrow and surrounded on all sides with bigger places, and weeds and more people.”
Most Forest Service wilderness trailheads have boxes with registration forms. In Montana, the forms are voluntary and don’t require a name or address. They do ask for the size of a party, expected campground stops and duration of trip. The forms are deposited in a locked box so others can’t find out who’s in the woods or how long they’re away from home.
Gale said a public comment session back in 2000 supported the voluntary permit forms in the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness. But since then, wilderness rangers had reported growing numbers of people ignoring the permit, or disregarding warnings about backcountry abuse.
Rangers may cite people for failure to have a permit in the wilderness, with an accompanying fine of $50 or $75. No other Montana wilderness areas are actively enforcing the permit requirement.
“Often when you get to this point, you already have big problems in your wilderness areas,” Gale said. “And lots of those times you don’t have the opportunity to do anything about it. We wanted to be more proactive than reactive.”