In April, more than 250 people gathered at Montana State University to begin a challenging conversation about balancing increasing outdoor recreation with protecting the remarkable wildlife, clean water, and inspiring landscapes of Greater Yellowstone. Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Montana State University put on the two-day symposium, Our Shared Place, to create an open table for people who love this place to share their stories, learn from each other and grapple with the tension between outdoor recreation and conservation.
The conversation began with GYC’s inventory of outdoor recreation, a two-year effort to compile all we know about where and to what extent people are recreating, as well as the challenges and opportunities rising recreation pressures may pose. The inventory was a great way to start the conversation from an understanding of what we know, don’t know and need to know. It grounded the symposium in a commitment to evidence and data, and the undeniability that we don’t know enough to make the best decisions.
Next, we heard stories. Stories of how we connect with nature and each other when we go outside. Stories about how time outside is fundamentally good for us and how time in wild places leads us to want to protect them. The diverse array of stories and information whether from climbers, runners, dirt bikers, writers, people of color, hunters, Native Americans, horseback riders, scientists, agency staff, anglers, snowmobilers, people with disabilities, mountain bikers, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, all shared a unifying passion for Greater Yellowstone. From these stories emerged common values of caring deeply about the health of the landscape. Survey participants indicated they value Greater Yellowstone most for its biodiversity, with recreational opportunities, wild rivers, and clean water and wildlife all tied for second.
A strong message throughout was the necessity of making sure everybody’s voice is included, that everybody’s story can be told and can be heard. Public lands belong to all Americans. We risk turning this challenging topic into another resource war or leaving out important constituents if we don’t all agree that all of us share this place and it’s important to all of us. No one should feel unwelcome or not included.
This also means that all of us must join in supporting the sound management of our public lands. At the same time outdoor recreation is booming, our public land managers are stretched thinner with shrinking budgets and staff. We’re heading for a train wreck of increased use and decreased stewardship if we don’t find more resources and revenue to support our public lands.
There are no easy solutions or silver bullets, but we do know that this conversation must continue and could take us to shared understandings of how we can balance our enjoyment of being outside with minimizing our damage to this place. We need a new ethic, a next step for “leave no trace,” where we understand our impacts and agree to behave in ways that keep Greater Yellowstone’s world-renowned lands, water and wildlife as healthy or healthier than they are today.
I came away from this important regional symposium inspired by the energy of a young and diverse crowd of participants who share my enthusiasm for protecting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and enjoying its amazing recreational opportunities. We all bring different passions and perspectives to these discussions, and in the end, that’s what we’ll need to find solutions that work for the people, communities, wildlife, and wild places of this remarkable place.
-- Brooke Regan, Special Projects Organizer