GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) _ Oil and gas drilling will be banned in the Rocky Mountains in Montana's Lewis and Clark National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service announced Tuesday.

Drilling will be allowed on several smaller mountain ranges east of the Rockies under a management plan announced by forest supervisor Gloria Flora. The forest includes the Rocky Mountains from Glacier National Park almost to the capital of Helena.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who has tried to include the front in past wilderness bills, praised the decision.

``The Rocky Mountain Front is a special place for all of us,'' Baucus said in a statement from Washington. ``Its value goes well beyond any that of any oil or minerals we could extract from its soil. This decision protects the Front for our children and grandchildren.''

He said the decision does not preclude oil and gas exploration elsewhere in Montana, in less-sensitive areas.

Gail Abercrombie, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association, said the industry group was extremely disappointed. She said whether the oil industry appeals the decision depends on companies with the money to do so.

``They've been beating their heads against the closed doors so long that I don't know if they want to go ahead,'' she said.

Ms. Abercrombie said no oil or gas is being produced from national forest lands in Montana, although there is some production from grasslands administered by the Forest Service. No oil and gas leases have been granted on national forest lands in Montana in 16 years, she said.