The Mount Haggin Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is located between Wisdom and Wise River and south of Anaconda. It is owned and operated by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and is just under 60,000 acres. The highest elevation is at the continental divide, with the southern portion in the Big Hole River Watershed and the northern portion in the Clark Fork River watershed.
Mount Haggin’s History
The first gold strike in the Big Hole occurred here at French Gulch in 1864, resulting in the formation of the French Gulch community until it was abandoned in 1902. W.R. Allen, who later became Lieutenant Governor, was born in French Gulch and later purchased the lands. Widespread mining occurred over a 70 year period across the area that is now the Mount Haggin Wildlife Management Area, using placer mining techniques to search for gold and silver in the many tributaries. Evidence of this activity remains present with piles of placer rock, disturbed stream habitat, and evidence of occupancy with cabins and debris that can be found throughout the area.
While the town of French Gulch searched for metals on Mount Haggin, nearby Butte was growing their search for gold and later and most extensively, copper. The copper subsequently needed to be smelted, which began with small smelters in Butte and later moved to the large and iconic Anaconda Smelter just a few miles from Mount Haggin. The smelter needed fuel and the mines needed lumber, which was provided by timber from what is now the Mount Haggin WMA. Flumes were constructed to and streams diverted in order to float logs down off the hills. As the smelter operated, contaminated emissions filtered down to the ground that contained arsenic, copper, lead, zinc, and cadmium, which proved toxic to the plant life of the WMA. Combined with extensive logging,smelter emissions resulted in large scale erosion of loose volcanic tuff soil, which drastically reduced soil organic content and left more acidic soils, which prevents any natural vegetation re-growth. The uplands became a barren landscape marked by extensive gullies that transport sediment to floodplains. Streams at the bottom of the highlands became choked with sediment and contamination that washed in from the uplands downhill. Sediment inputs have led to stream incision, hydrologic disconnect and a reduction of quality fish habitat.
In 1941 a road was contracted up the drainage, todays Highway 569 or “Mill Creek Road” and nearly followed the path of the old stagecoach road.
In 1971 (need to check this year) Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks purchased the property. The area is managed for multiple benefits, including wildlife habitat, grazing, trapping, and recreation.
Mount Haggin on the Mend
Mount Haggin Wildlife Management Area has and will continue to undergo extensive efforts to remediate the property.
Today, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks manages the Wildlife Management Area. Using their management plan, they operate grazing, timber, wildlife habitat, recreation opportunity, native fishery, and more. This has included strategic management decisions to help the area recover.
Some of the damages to Mount Haggin resulted from mining and smelter operations related to operations in Butte in Anaconda that were operated by the Anaconda Company, later becoming Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO). The Anaconda Smelter shut down in 1980. The Butte and Anaconda area has become the Upper Clark Fork River Basin Superfund area, including settlements for payments and management of mining related damages. The Smelter Hills Uplands Restoration work, a work area under the Upper Clark Fork Basin, includes just over 4 acres of the Mount Haggin Wildlife Management area that was impacted by the Anaconda Smelter operations. Primary concern is regevetation and sediment capture from Mount Haggin. Refer to the links below for details. The remediation work stemming from the Smelter Hills has includes revegetation of open slopes and plugging of hillside gullies, each of which contributed high sediment loads to streams.
Mount Haggin is within the Big Hole River Arctic grayling habitat of the Upper Big Hole River, within the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances area. Attention and restoration work led by Montana Fish, Wildife and Parks Arctic grayling program operate here to restore habitat that could benefit Arctic grayling.
Big Hole Watershed Committee is a major partner in the restoration of Mount Haggin, working closely with the Natural Resource Damage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Together we work in several areas of Mount Haggin to restore natural habitat for native fish, stream function, wetlands, water quality, and water storage while restoring historic mining. Our work takes Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks directives for wildlife, habitat and native fish, hosts project development and implementation, hosts and raises funds from state, federal and local sources and leverage matching funds in order to complete holistic remedies for watershed health. From 2012 to 2016 we will have hosted project work covering 4 steams and $1.2 million in restoration and more than $1 million planned for 2017-2019 pending funding awards.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Mount Haggin Information:
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks – Anaconda Smoke Stack State Park
Natural Resources Damages Program (NRDP) Smelter Hills Uplands Information:
The Mount Haggin Wildlife Management Area has gone and will continue to undergo extensive efforts to remediate the property from damages caused by historic placer mining, logging, and smelter operations. BHWC recently compiled a report showing before and after aerial imagery of the restoration efforts to-date. (more…)