A Bozeman-based coalition proposed Tuesday that the Custer Gallatin National Forest protect 130,000 acres of wilderness in its new plan.
“Our groundbreaking agreement will protect the character of our wild backyard — the Gallatin and Madison Ranges — while also maintaining access for all the different ways we recreate in this place,” said Hilary Eisen, a Bozeman backcountry skier and climber, in a statement.
The forest is taking comments on its proposals through March 5. In its document the agency had recommended more than 116,000 acres be considered for wilderness. The document will guide forest management for the next 10 to 15 years.
“The plan is that higher level, overarching guidance,” the agency’s Mariah Leuschen-Lonergan told the Gazette earlier this month. “It deals with broader statements about where we’d like to see the forest go, desired conditions. It’s more descriptive.”
The Gallatin Forest Partnership, a group that includes mountain bikers, hunters, conservationists, horseback riders, and other recreationists, came up with its own recommendations for several forest attributes, including:
- Wilderness designation for 102,000 acres in the Gallatin Range and the heart of the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area, as well as 22,000 acres in the Cowboy Heaven and Taylor-Hilgard areas of the Madison Range. "One area that's quite a bit different from the Forest Service is that we included Big Creek" in the Paradise Valley, Eisen said. "Our recommendation would also go all the way to Hyalite Peak."
- No expansion for motorized recreation.
- Creation of a 70,000-acre Hyalite Watershed Protection and Recreation Area south of Bozeman that keeps current recreation and trail access in the popular region that supplies much of the area's drinking water.
- Creates two new wildlife management areas: the 25,006-acre West Pine WMA, south of Trail Creek in the Paradise Valley and the 31,290-acre Porcupine Buffalo Horn WMA, east of Big Sky.
"We were trying to figure out the values we all shared and wildlife was always the underpinning ... the thing that makes this area so special," Eisen said.
•An expansion of mountain bike use in the West Pine Wildlife Management Area, allowing riding on all system trails. Right now bikes are only allowed on the West Pine and North Dry trails. Requests two new trails — as feasible based on terrain, habitat and budget — to improve trail connectivity between West Pine and North Dry and between the Dry Divide and Bear Lakes trails, connecting the area to the Bear Canyon area.
The group was created about a year-and-a-half ago, Eisen said, after people working together on the Gallatin Community Collaborative wanted to keep the discussion going. The collaborative was formed to find an agreement on wilderness study areas in the Gallatin Range but was not successful.
“This agreement demonstrates the importance of mountain bikers, conservationists, hunters, anglers and everyone who cares about the land working together to find common ground," said Tom Owen, of the Big Sky Mountain Bike Alliance and owner of Gallatin Alpine Sports in a statement.