Third time’s a charm? In the third and latest legal challenge, the U.S. District Court has affirmed that the Gallatin National Forest (GNF) can enhance as well as maintain the wilderness character of the Hyalite, Porcupine, Buffalo Horn (HPBH) wilderness study area (WSA) of the 1977 Montana Wilderness Study Act. What does this decision mean to the average person? The Court’s decision is logical as well as legal. Access to clean water is of utmost importance to the health and economy of the Gallatin Valley and its inhabitants. With Bozeman’s primary water source emanating from the WSA, conservation of this wild land area takes on extra significance. In addition to clean water, wilderness provides essential wildlife habitat for numerous species, heralded hunting and fishing opportunities, and traditional recreation such as hiking and horse packing. As these amenities of quality lifestyles increasingly attract more people to our area, it behooves us to ensure that the GNF exerts its authority to maintain and enhance the wilderness character of the HPBH WSA until such time that Congress acts on wilderness designation. The Court’s decision is balanced because a large area of the GNF lies outside the WSA. While the GNF is required to seasonally restrict mechanized travel within the WSA, popular snowmobile destinations still exist in areas such as Carrot Basin and Buck Ridge. In fact, over 600,000 acres of the GNF are open in winter to snowmobiles. Looking beyond the boundaries of the WSA, realistic opportunities exist to expand mechanized travel within the GNF. Needed now is a collaborative, community-wide approach to mapping future routes for mechanized travel in other parts of the GNF while enhancing wilderness character of the WSA and creating a process that culminates in permanent protection for the HPBH WSA.
Patti Steinmuller, Gallatin Gateway