Citizen’s Proposal: 16,654 acres
Intensive Inventory: 10,800 acres
Wilderness Study Area: 7,740 acres
BLM Recommendation: 3,600 acres
Location and Access
This wilderness study area is located in Big Horn County, 5 miles northeast of Hyattville along the western slope of the Bighorn Mountains. Medicine Lodge is easily accessed from the south utilizing the Cold Springs Road from Hyattville.
Medicine Lodge is one of the most spectacular canyons on the western slope of the Bighorn Mountains. Sheer cliffs of Madison limestone stair-step down over 1000 feet to a clear, cascading stream. A shallower canyon on Captain Jack Creek enters from the south, while orange Tensleep sandstone crops out on the shrub steppe away from the canyon. The study area supports many types of vegetation: alder and chokecherry line the water courses, Douglas fir and other conifers blanket higher parts of the steep north facing slopes, mountain mahogany and juniper grow on the southern aspects and shrub steppe, and sagebrush grasslands cover the canyon rims. Wildflowers and berries abound.
Visitors to Medicine Lodge make their way through wild, rugged terrain and thick vegetation to find excellent hunting and fishing. Superb nature and geology studies are provided by pristine ecological conditions and an abundance of fossils from the Lower Mississippian Age. Additionally, they can explore the passages of P-Bar Cave – which swallows up Medicine Lodge Creek every spring when the water is high.
Medicine Lodge is situated within the BLM's West Slope Special Recreation Management Area of the Bighorn Mountains, and is a scenic backdrop for the Red Gulch National Scenic Byway.
The BLM has included much of the Medicine Lodge Canyon in its Spanish Point Karst Area of Critical Environmental Concern and has recommended much of the area for wilderness designation. The ACEC was designated to protect important groundwater sources, while about half of the area is cooperatively managed as a Wyoming Game and Fish Department Habitat Management Area.
Nearly the entire area is crucial elk winter range (over a thousand may be present at one time) and a portion is crucial winter range for several hundred deer. Black bear, mountain lion, chukar and gray partridge, and nesting raptors, including American kestrel, prairie falcon, golden eagle, and red-tailed hawk (Ritter 1991), also call this area home. Harlequin duck and North American lynx, both candidates for Federal listing for endangered/threatened status, are found in the Medicine Lodge canyon area (WNDD, 1933). Sage and blue grouse strut and nest in the northern part of the area. In the winter, up to 20 bald eagles - federally listed as endangered - have been counted roosting in cottonwoods along the streams. Habitat occurs for spotted bats - federal threatened and endangered candidate species, and five state Priority Species of other bats - Townsend's big-eared bats, Yuma myotis, California myotis, Keen's myotis and fringed myotis - in the extensive cliffs within the area (Luce 1991). The long-legged myotis which has been observed in the Medicine Lodge Canyon area, is a rare State Priority species of bat (WNDD, 1993).
This lush deep canyon habitat in the transition zone on the very edge of the Bighorn Mountains is host to an array of rare plant species - blanched fleabane, Cary beardtongue, soft aster, and Hapeman's sullivantia have been identified in the area.
The multitudes of Medicine Lodge Canyon's diverse, rare plant communities listed demonstrate that this area's uniqueness is not only worthy of wilderness protection but a requirement for this area. The rare plant communities the area supports are: mountain big sagebrush/Idaho fescue community, bluebunch wheatgrass-Hood's phlox potential community, boxelder/bedstraw potential community, chokecherry/bedstraw potential community, Utah juniper/bluebunch wheatgrass community, curl-leaf mountain mahogany/bluebunch wheatgrass community, Douglas fir/heartleaf arnica community, Douglas fir/common juniper community, lodgepole pine/whortleberry community, prickly currant/bluebells potential community, narrowleaf cottonwood/chokecherry community, chokecherry/bedstraw potential community, mountain big sagebrush/Idaho fescue community, and limber pine/common juniper community.