Willingness to Compromise Puts Wilderness at Risk

Beartooth Mountains, Montana. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Many wilderness advocates would be surprised to learn that some well-known conservation organizations that purport to protect wild nature, actually facilitate the destruction of wild nature.

Specifically, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, The Wilderness Society and the Montana Wilderness Association, via the “Gallatin Forest Partnership” (GFP), support mechanized transportation and resource extraction for many of the remaining roadless areas on the Custer-Gallatin National Forest. As a retired wilderness guide/outfitter, I’ve worked, hiked and hunted in many of these lands for the last 45 years, and I know from experience that wildlife will pay a price for this malfeasance.

For example, the GFP wilderness proposal for the Gallatin Range includes only the 100,000-acre “Gallatin Crest,” while the remaining 150,000 roadless acres would become a backcountry playground for mechanized contraptions. The rich low elevation wilds of the Buffalo Horn and Porcupine Creek would be among the sacrifice areas. This is some of the most important wildlife habitat in the entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

By the way, about half of the 500,000-acre Gallatin Range is already “roaded and developed,” so the GFP 100,000-acre wilderness proposal would protect just one fifth of this magnificent mountain range.

These misguided groups excel at securing foundation grants that require or expect radical compromise (“collaboration”). Fortunately, the majority of grassroots conservation groups in this region oppose the Gallatin Forest Partnership and instead support wilderness designations for all or most of the remaining roadless wildlands on the Custer-Gallatin National Forest. My advice to folks who care about our dwindling wildland heritage is to look before you leap. Do not join the radical compromisers. There are many other groups that will do good things with your support.

Howie Wolke is a retired wilderness guide/outfitter and a past President of Wilderness Watch, a national conservation group based in Missoula, Montana. He lives in the foothills of the Gallatin Range in southern Montana. The views expressed in this essay are his own.