Saving the Wild Gallatins

Gallatin Range, Montana. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The Gallatin Range runs south from Bozeman to Yellowstone National Park. The range is the largest unprotected roadless area in the northern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

In particular, the Buffalohorn and Porcupine drainages along the border of Yellowstone Park contains the best grizzly habitat in the northern Yellowstone ecosystem. These drainages are also a significant elk winter range and home to bighorn sheep, moose, cougar, wolf and wolverine as well as genetically pure westslope cutthroat trout.

In 1977 Sen. Lee Metcalf guided legislation known as S. 393 through Congress to protect the Gallatin Range and other potential wilderness areas in Montana. This legislation established the 155,000-acre Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalohorn Wilderness Study Area (HPB WSA). Under the legislation, the Forest Service was directed to manage the HPB WSA as wilderness. S. 393 allowed existing uses so long as they did not disqualify the area for further wilderness designation and permitted only those uses in existence in 1977.

However, the Gallatin National Forest ignored this mandate and allowed snowmobiling, dirt bikes, and more recently mountain biking in the WSA.

More recently the Gallatin Forest Partnership proposes to eliminate the 155,000-acre HPB WSA and only protect 100,000 acres as designated wilderness, creating a loss of existing wilderness protection for the Buffalohorn and Porcupine drainages.

Rather than protecting the Buffalohorn and Porcupine drainages as wilderness, the GFP replaces the WSA with a nebulous “Wildlife Management Area” (WMA) designation. WMA provides less protection than wilderness and jeopardizes the exceptional wildlife values of these drainages.

While recreational interests were at the table, grizzly bear and elk that were not seated at the table in the GFP discussions.

We are better than this. We should give wildlife and wildlands the priority by designating a 230,000-acre Gallatin Range Wilderness under the 1964 Wilderness Act.

The wild Gallatin Range deserves nothing less.


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George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

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