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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Jan 17 2018

A Great Start

The Latest Custer Gallatin proposal is strong but leaves unprotected a few crucial wild places. We need your help to improve it.

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Montana Wilderness Association’s history runs deep in the Custer Gallatin National Forest. In fact, our organization was founded by Montanans inspired to protect the wild Madison and Gallatin Ranges, both of which are located in the Forest. Sixty years after MWA’s founding, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to continue the fight for wild places in this national forest and build on the legacy this organization began decades ago.

Over the last two years, many of you submitted comments, attended public meetings, and heard more about forest planning that you ever expected. Your energy and commitment is helping shape the future of wild places in the Custer Gallatin National Forest and ensure they remain wild. The Forest Service recently released its Proposed Action for the Custer Gallatin, which is the first draft of the forest plan and our first glimpse at what the future of the forest might look like. 

I hope you see your diligence, passion, and energy reflected in pieces of this plan. I imagine you will also see areas where the Forest Service could strengthen protections for wild places. There’s still work to be done for these places. The Forest Service needs to hear from you.

The Forest Service is now accepting comments on the Proposed Action, and the deadline to comment is March 5, 2018.

Below is a snapshot of the Proposed Action and the changes MWA is recommending to the Forest Service. We encourage you to echo our recommendations in your own comments to the Forest Service.

The Custer Gallatin Proposed Action at a glance
Managing recommended wilderness as designated Wilderness

The Proposed Action suggests managing recommended Wilderness areas consistently with designated Wilderness by prohibiting motorize and mechanized uses, which are not consistent with the Wilderness Act. We applaud the Forest Service for recognizing that this management direction is critical for maintaining wilderness character and the potential for designation in the future. 

The Gallatin Range

The Gallatin Range is one of MWA’s priority landscapes, and we are pleased to see 70,600 acres recommended as Wilderness. 

The Proposed Action, however, excludes key areas around Windy Pass Cabin, Big Creek, and the southern portion of the range.

We’re encouraging the Forest Service to add wild Big Creek to the Gallatin Crest recommended Wilderness. Big Creek is one of the largest and wildest drainages of the range and deserves to be managed for its wild character. We’re also encouraging the Forest Service to recommend the historic Windy Pass Cabin and the entire roadless portion of the southern Gallatin Range as Wilderness, given the wildness of both areas and their proximity to Yellowstone National Park.

The Pryor Mountains

The Pryor Mountains are as unique as they are wild. This island range in eastern Montana is known for its biodiversity, ice caves, and off-trail opportunities. The Pryors are also a culturally significant landscape for many tribes, including the Apsáalooke (Crow Tribe). 

We are pleased that the Forest Service increased the Lost Water Canyon recommended Wilderness by 1,000 acres but disappointed that the rest of the Pryors under Forest Service management did not receive the same recommendation.

We’re encouraging the Forest Service to protect the wild character and cultural significance of Bear Canyon, Big Pryor, and the Punchbowl areas in the Pryor Mountains by managing them as recommended Wilderness.

The Crazy Mountains 

The Crazy Mountains are known for their stunning and remote alpine peaks and lakes. The 82,000 roadless acres managed by the Custer Gallatin National Forest provide ample opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation. This island range is also a culturally significant landscape, given the Crow Tribe’s connection to its high peaks.

The Proposed Action fails to acknowledge and manage for the Crazies’ wild character and cultural significance.

We’re urging the Forest Service to manage the Crazies as recommended Wilderness and acknowledge the landscape for its cultural significance.

The Lionhead (or Henry’s Mountains)

The Lionhead provides a critical link between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the High Divide. We are pleased to see nearly 18,000 acres remain as recommended Wilderness and managed to preserve a primitive recreational experience without mountain bikes. The Proposed Action, however, reduced the existing recommended wilderness area by 5,000 acres and excludes the Continental Divide Trail, the primary purpose of which is for foot and horseback riding opportunities. The Proposed Action also excludes Mile Creek from recommended wilderness.

We’re recommending that the Forest Service maintain the existing 22,800 acres of recommended Wilderness in the Lionhead.

Madison Range

MWA has a deep history in the wild Madison Range, particularly in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. We are pleased to see an addition of 4,500 acres to the southern portion of the Taylor Hilgard unit recommended as wilderness. The Proposed Action, however, leaves out the wild, roadless Cowboy Heaven.

We’re encouraging the Forest Service to include the 16,000 acres of land in Cowboy Heaven. This addition would connect two units of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness and adjoins a recommended wilderness unit on the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest immediately to the west.

Comments are best received when they are personal, unique, and specific. Share with the CGNF experiences you’ve had on the forest and explain why these places are special to you and should be protected.

For help writing your comments, please join me on February 8th from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Greater Yellowstone Coalition in Bozeman for a comment writing party.

For public engagement opportunities, please visit the Forest Service’s public involvement page for up-to-date opportunities.

For more information, please contact me at scathey@wildmontana.org.

- Sally Cathey, MWA southwest Montana field director