Recently the Missoulian ran an article about the Gallatin Forest Partnership that has proposed a future division of the Gallatin Range by Bozeman into different recreational zones, to the detriment of wildlife and wildlands.

The rugged Gallatin Range is the largest unprotected wildlands left in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The Gallatin Range, though already severely fragmented by past logging, ORV use and other impacts, still contains a 230,000-acre core roadless area. Much of this core area has been given some modest protection over the years as part of the 155,000-acre Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area set aside in 1977 by the late Lee Metcalf.

Unfortunately, the Gallatin Forest Partnership seeks to further diminish the range’s wildlands character by chipping away at the 230,000 acres of wild country by designating a largely “rocks and ice” high elevation 102,000 acres as wilderness, while proposing diminished protection for the Buffalo Horn and Porcupine drainages as well as the West Pine area as so-called wildlife management areas (WMA).

The creation of WMAs is to facilitate the expansion of mountain biking in these parts of the Gallatin Range.

The irony here is that the Buffalo Horn-Porcupine area may be the best unprotected wildlife habitat left in the entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. It is a crucial migration route for elk moving from Yellowstone to winter range in the Gallatin and Madison valleys. It is prime grizzly habitat. It has the best potential for bison recolonization of any parts of the ecosystem. Not to mention it also harbors moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, wolverine, wolves, cougar, marten and other wildlife.

If any part of the Gallatin Range deserves to be protected as wilderness, this is the place, yet the Gallatin Partnership, largely representing competing recreation interests, proposes a “wildlife management area” of unknown value and supports the increasing recreational use of these critical areas.

This shameful, self-centered proposal is made worse by the obvious participation and support of so-called “wilderness advocates” working for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, The Wilderness Society and Montana Wilderness Association.

These groups profess to speak for wilderness and wildlife using science as their guide. But they seem to leave science and wilderness advocacy behind. Increasing recreational use will impact wildlife. It will diminish the wild qualities of the range. Fragmentation will result in less secure habitat for many species of wildlife.

Wilderness is the gold standard for conservation. Anyone who professes to speak for conservation must advocate for wilderness designation if they want to protect these lands. Lesser designations mean lesser protection.

Wilderness is our way of writing a new narrative to our relationship to the land. Wilderness is a way to reverse the current view of devotion to self-aggrandizement, control and domination to one that displays reverence, humility and respect. Wilderness is about restraint and self-control rather than satisfying one’s personal recreational desires.

I am reminded of Bob Marshall’s admonishment when he helped to create the Wilderness Society in 1935. Marshall wrote:” We want no stragglers. For in the past far too much good wilderness has been lost by those whose first instinct is to compromise." It is a motto that the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Montana Wilderness Association and especially the Wilderness Society should embrace.

To reiterate another great conservationist, David Brower: “Polite conservationists leave no mark save the scars upon the Earth that could have been prevented had they stood their ground.”

Please write the Custer Gallatin National Forest and ask them to recommend a 230,000-acre wilderness for the Gallatin Range. If you are a member of any of these organizations, please write them and express your displeasure that they are selling out wildlands.

George Wuerthner is an ecologist who has visited more than 400 designated wilderness areas, and published 38 books, including "Montana: Magnificient Wilderness."

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