Help Protect the Madison-Gallatin Borderlands of Yellowstone National Park As America’s First National Monument for Wildlife

Gray Wolf. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

We ask that President Biden declare a Madison-Gallatin National Wildlife Monument in Montana and Idaho. 

Why a National Wildlife Monument?

National Monuments are designated to protect scenery and wildlife as well as cultural and historic sites. The Antiquities Act allows the creation of such monuments, which are designed to protect “objects of historic or scientific interest.” The Madison-Gallatin National Wildlife Monument is specifically tailored to preserve and restore some of our nation’s most import and imperiled wildlife populations, living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Once set aside, monuments are typically overseen by the National Park Service.

Designating 1.6 million acres as a National Wildlife Monument including 450,000 acres proposed for Wilderness designation will protect this resource for generations to come. A significant amount of acreage in the monument will be dedicated to true wildland restoration including removal and reclamation of unnecessary roads.

World Class Wildlife

The wildlife in the Yellowstone National Park area are some of America’s most valued national treasures. Yet, despite its size and grandeur, Yellowstone National Park is not large enough to be an ecosystem unto itself. Yellowstone Park is about 2.2 million acres, but the Park wildlife is also dependent on adjacent lands that together comprise a much larger area known as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) – up to 22 million acres, about the size of Maine. Even the GYE is a semi-isolated island of biological diversity within the Northern Rockies landscape. Habitat all around the GYE is getting gobbled up by subdivisions, roads, vacation homes, golf courses, and ski resorts. TV shows like “Yellowstone” give the public a skewed view of the land and the communities and cause inflated property values and real estate speculation.

Serious wildlife management issues continue to plague the GYE including more than 2,000 American bison killed or removed near the Park boundary in winter 2022-2023 as they attempted to access winter range and calving grounds. So-called hunters are shooting and trapping wolves around the Park borders, killing wolf pack leaders and individuals tracked by the Park Service for research. Despite being protected, grizzly bears are dying in this critical wildlife corridor due to roadkill, poaching, and conflicts with humans. At least 50 grizzly bears have already died in the Greater Yellowstone area in 2023 (as of Nov. 16). Elk, deer and moose are succumbing to Chronic Wasting Disease, with the first CWD death of a deer just discovered in Yellowstone Park (Nov. 15 2023). Black bears are being hunted with hounds in Montana for the first time in 50 years. Wolverines and lynx risk getting caught in snares and traps set to catch wolves.

The wildlife of the GYE need additional sanctuaries from indiscriminate trapping and shooting and more land set aside specifically as wildlife habitat.

Mismanagement by the US Forest Service

Much of the land in the proposed monument is administered by the US Forest Service. Unfortunately, the Forest Service is hell-bent on logging and roading much of the land that does not enjoy permanent protection. For instance, the South Plateau timber sale on the Custer Gallatin National Forest would entail 57 miles of new roads and 5500 acres of clearcut logging with no replanting, all on a high dry plateau where trees grow very slowly. This is an area currently brimming with wildlife but building new roads and clearcutting the forest would drive away and imperil many species. The new monument would shift the management emphasis to the restoration of previously logged and roaded lands after many decades of industrial logging.

The Forest Service also has a history of avoiding and opposing the protection of endangered wildlife species, even though they manage vast areas of critical wildlife habitat.

Protect the Borderlands

The western and northwestern borders of Yellowstone Park are the least protected in the GYE (see map) despite being vitally important habitat for nationally significant wildlife, fish and birds. Here we find the great glacial-sculpted mountain ranges of the Gallatin and Madison ranges, glorious high-elevation terrain with many peaks over 10,000 and 11,000 feet. The snow here falls deep and fills hundreds of alpine lakes. Waterfalls cascade down metamorphic and sedimentary cliffs, and the waters gather in the Gallatin, Madison, Henrys Fork, Gardiner, Yellowstone and other sparkling, fish-filled rivers. Great forests of Douglas fir, Lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce, and quaking aspen blanket the middle and lower ridges, while glorious meadows brimming with wildflowers grace the hidden valleys ringed by stunning precipices. Endangered Whitebark pine cling to existence on the high crags and Subalpine fir form dense, dark groves at treeline.

Along the Continental Divide, which forms the state border between Idaho and Montana, vast plateaus of lodgepole pine blanket rolling ridges that spill down the edges of Yellowstone’s massive volcanic calderas. Hot and cold springs bubble deep in the backcountry. Large reservoirs formed by the Madison and Henrys Fork rivers attract boaters and fishermen and lots of wildlife.

The richness and diversity of the life found here cannot be overstated. According to wildlife consultant Mike Bader, there are 94 species of mammals here, 98% of the original mammal species found at the time of Lewis and Clark. These include such rare creatures as Canada lynx, wolverine, fisher, marten, wolf, and mountain lion. 382 species of birds have been recorded in the GYE including 63 Species of Concern, including American white pelican, trumpeter swan, golden eagle, harlequin duck, great grey owl, whooping crane, and Clark’s nutcracker. Fish species found in the clean, cold waters here include Yellowstone cutthroat trout, arctic grayling and golden trout.

These borderlands are migratory habitat and hold an essential winter range for bison, elk, bighorn sheep, moose and mule deer that migrate from the Park. Grizzly bears, wolves, wolverine and lynx depend on this area. The proposed National Wildlife Monument would protect vital connectivity habitat between the GYE and other ecosystems in the Northern Rockies.

Scenic, cultural and historically significant values are found throughout the national monument. More than 50 miles of the Continental Divide National Recreation Trail traverse this area. The Hebgen Lake Earthquake is memorialized in a historic site.  World-famous trout fisheries include four major rivers. Native American cultural sites are found throughout the monument area with native use of resources here going back at least 11,000 years.

Madison-Gallatin Unit

The Gallatin Range has a temporary Wilderness Study Area of 155,000 acres, but at least 200,000 acres of this magnificent range deserve permanent protect as designated Wilderness. The Gallatins are a key north-south migration route for grizzlies, wolves, lynx, bighorn sheep  and other mammals. Also found here is the unique and rare Gallatin Petrified Forest, as well as the spectacular Gallatin Crest Trail. Along with the Northwest corner of Yellowstone, the Gallatin Range enjoys over 500,000 acres of contiguous wilderness.

The Madison Range holds the spectacular Lee Metcalf Wilderness but the wilderness is divided into four parts and the gaps in the wilderness are being heavily developed for resorts and motorized recreation. Adding 160,000 acres of wilderness to the Lee Metcalf would help fill in these gaps, and declaring Restoration Emphasis areas near Big Sky resort could help stem the flood of high-end development. In addition, the Lionhead area at the south end of the Madisons deserves wilderness status with a new High Divide Wilderness of about 114,000 acres.

 Henrys Lake-Island Park Unit

This southern part of the monument, in Idaho, holds the headwaters of some of our major rivers as well as a critical migration corridor along the Continental Divide for wildlife moving between Greater Yellowstone and Central Idaho. The Caribou Targhee National Forest was heavily logged and roaded right up to the border of Yellowstone and is in need of restoration to heal the land and  preserve the remaining biodiversity. The Island Park area has been taken over by industrial recreation such as snowmobiling and off-road vehicles – this must be addressed in favor of wildlife. Wildlife crossing structures on Route 20 could help animals such as moose, bison, elk, grizzly bears and bighorn sheep that get struck and killed by speeding vehicles. These structures help save human lives and property as well.

The U.S. Forest Service Revised Forest Plans for the Custer-Gallatin and Caribou-Targhee National Forests cater to development and motorized recreation. A National Monument would come with its own management plan that will recalibrate the management toward wildlife habitat and low-impact recreation.

We are facing Earth’s sixth great extinction and species around the world are losing their ability to survive. The United States must set an example by using the Antiquities Act to protect this proposed National Monument. This is not only good for America’s wildlife, but for the many who have invested in businesses and recreate in this wild and beautiful part of the American West. In the past few years, wolf-watching alone has contributed more than $85 million dollars into the local economies. The monument will build on this success.

We must move quickly to protect this public land and to invest in the restoration of wildland lands that have been impacted by industrial logging and road construction and return this landscape to its natural conditions for the betterment of wildlife. Please help by providing your endorsement of this bold idea as we build support across the region and the nation for a new and visionary national monument.


Stephen Capra
Bold Visions Conservation