Citizen Science Opportunities on BLM Wilderness Study Areas

The Wilderness Institute – Citizen Science Program, University of Montana, in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management, is seeking volunteers to work with experienced field leaders to evaluate wilderness character across our public lands.  The season WI will be covering Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) in eastern and southwestern Montana. 

Join us and learn about monitoring methods, recreation impacts, invasive species, and the natural history and wildlife across Montana’s empowering landscape.

Backcountry and camping experience helpful, but not necessary.  Delicious dinners are provided daily.  Transportation available from Missoula and select towns in the study area vicinity.

In June expect to be exploring Eastern Montana’s rugged, colorful landscape.  As the snow melts away in July we will move to the high country around Dillon, Montana.


Bridge Coulee and Musselshell Breaks Wilderness Study Areas | Register for this trip

June 14-19, 2018 (Thursday through Tuesday)

Difficulty: Car camping with some rugged on-trail hiking and off trail navigation

Bridge Coulee WSA (5,900 acres) and Musselshell Breaks WSA (8,650 acres) are near the town of Mosby, in eastern Montana.  You will be exposed to ridge tops and deep coulees.  Groves of ponderosa pine and juniper grow, along with range grasses, native wildflowers, and several brushy plants within the WSAs.   


Catch-All BLM WSA Tours  |  Register for this trip

June 27-July 2, 2018 (Wednesday through Monday)

Difficulty: Car camping with some rugged on-trail hiking and off trail navigation

Sometimes the weather does not cooperate with us or we simply run out of time. This trip will cover the "danglies," the areas we just did not get covered on previous trips to the BLM WSAs.  This trip may include Bridge Coulee, Musselshell Breaks, and/or Woodhawk WSAs, eastern Montana


Hidden Pasture Creek and Blacktail Mountains Wilderness Study Areas  |  Register for this trip

July 12-17, 2018 (Thursday through Tuesday)

Difficulty: Car camping with some rugged on-trail hiking and off trail navigation

The Hidden Pasture Creek WSA (15,509 acres) is located in Southwest Montana, roughly 40 miles south of Dillon, MT. The Hidden Pasture Creek is located in the lower slopes of the Tendoy Mountains.  Sagebrush habitat with some forested areas are cut by numerous seasonally dry drainages.  The area provides habitat for a bighorn sheep herd.  The Blacktail Mountains WSA (17,479 acres) is located approximately 15 miles south of Dillon, MT, and is predominantly forested.  Located near sagebrush and riparian habitats, the edge effect of the different but adjoining habitats supports a broad array and abundance of wildlife species. 


Centennial Mountains Wilderness Study Areas|  Register for this trip

August 9-14, 2018 (Thursday through Tuesday)

Difficulty:Backcountry trip with trails and some off trail navigation.

This trip will explore some of southwest Montana’s wildest and most scenic country. Considered an important corridor for wildlife movement, it provides an east-west trending mountain range connecting the Yellowstone Ecosystem with the northern Rocky Mountains. Lower elevation slopes are dominated by stands of Douglas fir with occasional lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce, alpine fir, and quaking aspen. Higher elevations contain broad alpine meadows with scattered stands of subalpine fir, spruce, and whitebark pine. 


Learn more about 2016 past trips:

Sleeping Giant WSA and Cow Creek, Antelope Creek and Woodhawk WSAs

Last summer we will took small groups of volunteers into several Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) within the Missouri River Breaks National Monument as well as the Sleeping Giant/Sheep creek formation norht of Helena. Volunteers worked with experienced field leaders to evaluate for wilderness character. They learned about monitoring methods, recreation impacts, invasive species, native plants, and the natural history and wildlife of this majestic landscape.

Overview of Program

The Wilderness Institute’s (WI) Citizen Science Program is enlisting citizen volunteers to implement monitoring in Montana’s Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs).  The BLM is required to manage WSAs as to not impair the areas’ wilderness character. Decreasing agency resources limits BLM’s ability to monitor and evaluate resource conditions. The BLM manages 32 WSAs in Montana.  Priority WSAs for inventory have been identified by the National Landscape Conservation System Program Lead, BLM Montana/Dakotas State Office.  WI working collaboratively with the BLM will engage citizen scientist to inventory these WSAs over a five year period.


A pilot study was conducted in fall 2014 with the Missoula Field Office and generated preliminary baseline results for two BLM Wilderness Study Areas — the Hoodoo WSA and the Wales Creek WSA. During this pilot study, we used GPS-based protocols to collect information on mobile units with two crews of 9 student volunteers from the University of Montana. This allowed us to test the protocols with a group of untrained, citizen scientists as well as use the opportunity for education and outreach with the University of Montana Wilderness and Civilization program.

Projected location and five-year timeline

2014: Pilot- Missoula Field Office – Two WSAs
2015: Missoula Field Office – Two WSAs and Upper Missouri River Breaks – Five WSAs
2016: Upper Missouri River Breaks – Five WSAs and Butte Field Office – Three WSAs
2017: Miles City Field Office – five WSAs and Dillon Field Office 9 WSAs
2018: Miles City Field Office – five WSAs and Dillon Field Office  9 WSAs