Chronicle column: Gallatin Forest Partnership: A path forward for our wild backyard

The following was first published in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle as a guest opinion by GYC Executive Director Caroline Byrd, Christian Appel, Denise Wade, and Mike Fiebig. 

You have the chance to help determine the future of our wild backyard for the next 30 years.

We are lucky to call the Gallatin and Madison mountains home. They provide abundant wildlife, clean drinking water, and wild trails – but for how much longer? Between skyrocketing populations and a changing landscape, these constants of mountain living are starting to look a lot less certain. Now the Custer Gallatin National Forest’s management plan is up for its once-in-a-generation revision, giving us our chance to secure our mountains’ future.

Fly-fishing in the Custer Gallatin National Forest in Montana. (Photo Louise Johns.)

Fly-fishing in the Custer Gallatin National Forest in Montana. (Photo Louise Johns.)

Any day now, we will enter a 90-day public comment period for the forest’s new management plan. While the Custer Gallatin National Forest’s final decision remains at least a year out, this is the all-important step when they will weigh their alternatives. The Gallatin Forest Partnership’s agreement will be included in one of those alternatives, and is best shot at effective, permanent protections for the Gallatins and Madisons. That means that we have 90 days to make ourselves heard, and the next 30 years (or more) to reap the rewards!

Decades of good work to find resolution and protect the Gallatins and Madisons bring us to this watershed moment. The Gallatin Forest Partnership represents the apex of that effort. It formed to create the space we needed to hash this out once and for all. A diverse range of stakeholders was welcomed, so long as they committed to listening and finding solutions. These guiding principles worked, and the Partnership submitted their agreement to the Forest Service last year.

Around the Partnership’s table sit local hikers, mountain bikers, horsemen, hunters, anglers, conservationists, and experts of all stripes. The voices have been as diverse and varied as the mountains we came together to protect. Every step of the way was grounded in the best available science and reflected the combined strength of many of our area’s most committed and enduring conservation and recreation groups. By working together, each hard discussion inched us closer to a solution that works for everybody.

Snowshoeing through the snowy Custer Gallatin National Forest in Montana. (Photo Louise Johns.)

Snowshoeing through the snowy Custer Gallatin National Forest in Montana. (Photo Louise Johns.)

Finding agreement meant reconciling ideas that had, until now, kept us divided. Recreation and access are critical for us to enjoy our public lands, but so is the health of those environments. Creative monitoring plans help us stay ahead of changing wildlife pressures, but local businesses also need long-term certainty. In resolving these issues, separate and at times even conflicting interests became something greater than the sum of their parts. Piece by piece a shared vision came into focus. The result is a singularly rare opportunity for us to secure the lands, water, and access we need to thrive while these resources still exist as they do today.

So many have already come forward to back the Partnership’s agreement. From local businesses to organizations to individuals, it’s thanks to this unprecedented support that we’ve gotten this far. We have so much to gain, for people, places, and wildlife alike, but all that momentum won’t amount to much if we sit this comment period out.

It doesn’t get much closer to home than this. These mountains define us in so many ways, and no amount of hindsight can make up for our complacency now. Visit GallatinPartners.org to read the agreement yourself, add your support, and learn how you can have the biggest impact through your public comments.

-Caroline Byrd, Greater Yellowstone Coalition

-Christian Appel, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

-Denise Wade, Big Sky

-Mike Fiebig, American Rivers