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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Feb 15 2018

The Right Way to Solve Public Land Challenges in Montana

The Gallatin Forest Partnership is an example Senator Daines should follow

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Montana’s wild places have been in the news a lot recently. From a collaborative agreement recommending nearly 250,000 acres of conservation protections for the Gallatin and Madison Ranges to Senator Daines’ bill enacting the largest elimination of protected public lands in our state’s history—without any public involvement—we’ve seen an example of both the right and wrong way to achieve durable solutions for our public lands.

Montanans deserve to have a voice in the future management of the Gallatin Range, Sapphires, Big Snowies, and the other wild places set aside by the Montana Wilderness Study Act. Unfortunately, Senator Daines disagrees. It’s clear that Sen. Daines did not give the public an opportunity to weigh in on the fate of nearly a half-million acres of our wildest, most pristine public lands before he introduced his deceptively-named bill. 

I hope Senator Daines takes note from his constituents on the right way to find solutions for our public lands.

A few weeks ago, the Gallatin Forest Partnership (GFP) released a collaborative proposal that represents the diverse interests of our state. Local conservationists, mountain bikers, hunters, hikers, horseback riders, skiers, paddlers, outfitters, and business owners joined together to create a joint recommendations for the Gallatin and Madison Ranges, which has been shared with the Forest Service during its revision of the Forest Plan. All of MWA’s members should take pride in this agreement, because it’s the product of work we’ve been engaged in for decades. The GFP benefitted directly from the knowledge, understanding, and relationships created in the Gallatin Community Collaborative, and informed by previous legislative efforts to resolve the wilderness study status of the Gallatin Range.

This proposal achieves a goal we’ve been working toward for decades – finding protection for the Gallatin Range’s wild core, the last unprotected area adjoining Yellowstone National Park. The agreement maintains existing access while also ensuring this stunning part of southwest Montana, the fastest growing corner of the state, remains as it is.

Here some highlights from the proposal:

  •  Recommends nearly 130,000 acres for Wilderness designation. This includes almost 100,000 of the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area in the heart of the Gallatin Range, as well as 22,000 acres in the Cowboy Heaven and Taylor-Hilgard areas of the Madison Range
  • Creates two new wildlife management areas 
  • Keeps Bozeman’s water clean with a 70,000-acre “Watershed Protection Area” that keeps current recreation and trail access as it is today. 

Collaborative solutions like the GFP offer a path for resolving Montana’s WSAs. While the GFP’s collaborative proposal is a monumental step, it isn’t the first solution offered for a WSA. 

In fact, several solutions for the WSAs threatened by Daines’ bill have been offered over the decades. One such solution resolved six of the seven remaining Forest Service WSAs and passed both chambers of Congress in 1988 only to be pocket vetoed by President Reagan. Another resolution for seven of our WSAs was offered a few years ago in the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. But then-Congressman Daines refused to support it. Senator Daines now, however, claims that Congress has done nothing to resolve the status of Montana’s WSAs.

Montanans know that working together in a transparent, collaborative way –  as in the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project and the Gallatin Forest Partnership –  is more than a process. It’s also a Montana value. 

Hopefully, Senator Daines recognizes that too.

- Sally Cathey, MWA southwest Montana field director