Over many decades, generations of people who value wildlands worked tirelessly advocating for the complete and permanent protection of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Many of those dedicated voices are still waiting. Sadly, others have been lost over time. But as happens in life, new voices have picked up that clarion call to help protect “the last best place.” There was a time when we spoke as one for the protection of the Gallatin Range, the only unprotected mountain range extending outward from Yellowstone National Park. This too seems to have changed.
The Custer Gallatin National Forest is in the process of analyzing and tabulating public comments on the Draft Revised Forest Plan and the supporting Draft Environmental Impact Statement. One major issue contained in that plan is that of wilderness, today more than ever, a “hot button” issue. That too has changed over years. Historically, extraction industries have been the most vocal of the aligned voices against wilderness, but mechanized recreation is usurping that role today.
The issue of wilderness in the Gallatin Range has been a contentious one, mechanized recreational users pitted against those deeply concerned with wildlands and the wildlife they support. Many of us who seek the greatest quantity of roadless lands designated as wilderness are frustrated over the misconception and the misrepresentation that Alternative C of the Draft Plan represents the full potential of wilderness. This is not the case.
We need strong advocacy for wilderness in the CGNF. Unfortunately, those supporting such action and much of the public’s voice has been marginalized by groups getting grants from foundations requiring radical compromise.
It is time for a unified voice again. We must remember, these lands belong to all Americans. We must recognize how lucky we are to live in an area where such biodiversity and wildness exists. But their protection is not automatic. Those concerned about the kind of future we leave to our children and grandchildren must become engaged. This issue is larger than ourselves and living for the moment. Climate change exacerbates the necessity for protection and that urgency calls for action now.
This is why many of us see the need for a new alliance; a coalition of organizations and individuals who will advocate and legislate for wilderness on the CGNF. We will advocate for the protection of all suitable roadless lands as wilderness, full protection of the watershed, full protection of the wildlife, and for the ecological integrity our wildlands deserve. The CGNF needs further protection in order to sustain itself in an uncertain future.
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The new Gallatin Yellowstone Wilderness Alliance will be that voice; a voice to advocate and fight for our environmental future. Search out our website as we begin to formulate our new alliance with the mission of protecting and restoring wild lands of the CGNF and other public lands of the northern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Alternative C recommended only 4.7% additional wilderness of CGNF lands. There are 848,091 acres (28%) of lands across the CGNF classified as “inventoried roadless areas”. The Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area, the heart of the Gallatin Range, contains 144,000 of those acres or 17%, proving the potential for wilderness is much greater than what was sold to the public by local collaboratives.
These lands are all that remain of the northern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, lands which can help mitigate the onslaught of population increase, resource overuse and abuse, climate change, and the demise of innumerable species, species which many take for granted. We’re striving to give this ecosystem a fighting chance for the future.
Recently, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, an agency of the United Nations released a report whereby Sir Robert Watson, chair of the agency made this comment: “The new report paints ‘an ominous picture’ of the health of ecosystems rapidly deteriorating.”
Wilderness offers the gold standard in that protection. Designated wilderness lands with an increase of 4.7% won’t be enough to negate the environmental stresses heading our way. We encourage citizens of Montana and our nation to be that new voice. Join that clarion call to help us complete the protection of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.