A Vision for the Gallatins
Finishing Lee Metcalf's Legacy
Home to grizzly bears, wolverines, elk, and other important species, the Gallatin Range is the largest unprotected landscape sharing a border with Yellowstone National Park. With ten peaks over 10,000 feet in the Gallatin Range alone, it’s easy to see why the Custer Gallatin National Forest is the most visited national forest in Montana.
But the Gallatin Range is more than just a recreational hotspot. It’s also an essential source of clean water for nearby towns, a refuge for wildlife, and a place for the residents of some of Montana’s fastest growing communities to find solitude. That’s why securing lasting protection for the wildlands of this magnificent mountain range has been an unwavering goal for MWA since its founding over a half-century ago. As the Custer Gallatin National Forest undergoes a revision to its forest management plan, it is more important than ever to find a community-supported agreement for how to manage our unique public lands.
What's at Stake?
At the heart of the Gallatin Range is the 151,000-acre Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area (WSA). Lying between Yellowstone National Park and the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, this corner of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is one of the few places left with nearly the full complement of species that were here 200 years ago when Lewis and Clark made their journey west. Among the species the Gallatin Range supports are grizzly bears, moose, mountain goats, wolverines, and the occasional lynx. Portions of the Gallatins also provide critical winter range for elk, bighorn sheep, and other big game.
World Class Recreation
The high peaks, diverse wildlife, free-flowing rivers, and Montana’s climate combine to create endless recreation opportunities for hikers, climbers, skiers, bicyclists, hunters, and anglers. These opportunities are vital to the quality of life in surrounding communities and provide a significant contribution to the local economy. Outdoor recreation supports 70,000 jobs, generates $7 billion in consumer spending, and provides $2 billion in wages and salaries in Montana. In Park County alone, over $12,400 (22%) per capita of the average resident’s income is related to protected public land.
Wild and Scenic Headwaters
The snowfields in the high peaks of the Gallatin Range’s northern front supply 80 percent of Bozeman’s drinking water. That water flows down through several eligible Wild and Scenic Rivers, including the Gallatin River, a favorite haunt of local anglers and paddlers.
A Unique History
A petrified forest and fossils from an ancient sea are just a few of the extraordinary discoveries you can make in the Gallatin Range. These mountains tell a story of fire, ice, and water that dominated this landscape thousands of years ago. The region also has a rich, colorful history of ancestral use by Native Americans, followed by cattlemen, miners, and homesteaders.
The Custer Gallatin National Forest, which includes the Gallatin Range, recently began the process of revising it’s forest management plan. Forest plan revision will determine how these lands are managed for the next 15 to 20 years. It is critical that the new forest plan address existing natural resource problems and anticipate what the next two decades could bring.
Lured by the unique combination of economic opportunity and outdoor adventure, people have been flocking to communities around the Gallatin Range. Bozeman, Belgrade, and Big Sky have nearly tripled in size since Congress designated the Hyalite-Porcupine Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area in 1977. As more and more people come to live, work, and play next to our beautiful mountains and clear rivers, Montana’s dwindling wild places face growing pressures and demands. Pressure on water resources to quench the thirst of our growing communities will increase, and we will continue to see a rise in public land use by recreators of all types. Without protection for the wildlands of the Gallatin Range, we risk turning the last best place into just another place.
Finding Solutions through the Gallatin Forest Partnership
We have a responsibility to put past differences aside and work with a diversity of public land users to create land management solutions that benefit us all. In 2016 MWA joined a diverse group of stakeholders called the Gallatin Forest Partnership (GFP). The partnership is committed to crafting recommendations for the Custer Gallatin National Forest management plan revision.
Our vision is simple: build community-wide support to protect the Gallatin and Madison ranges, from Hyalite Canyon in the north to the border of Yellowstone National Park in the south. It’s an effort to protect blue-ribbon trout streams, open space, and a clean supply of drinking water. It’s a commitment to safeguard our most iconic wildlife, including some of southwest Montana’s largest elk herds. And it’s a plan that will unite a community of interests, from hikers to bikers to horsemen and women, so that future generations of Montanans can experience this landscape as it is today.
In 2018 Gallatin Forest Partnership reached an agreement for how our public lands within the Gallatin and Madison Ranges could be managed. The plan balances wildlife, watershed, vegetation, and recreation values. This community-generated solution provides a path forward that benefits our fast growing communities and supports the outdoor values that underscore our quality of life. Learn more and endorse the agreement at gallatinpartners.org.
For more information on what we are doing to protect the Gallatin Range and to find out how you can get involved, contact Southwest Montana Field Director Emily Cleveland at email@example.com.