Chronicle column: Public and private lands are crucial to Greater Yellowstone

The following was first published in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle as a guest opinion by GYC Executive Director Caroline Byrd.

Since 1983, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition has been part of the ever-expanding Bozeman conservation world. We live, work, raise our families and recreate here. Throughout our history we have built deep, lasting relationships with this community and throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. In fact, it is in our mission to work with people to protect the lands, waters and wildlife of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem now and for future generations.

The 2019 Ruby Valley Field Tour heads out into the field. (Photo GYC/Emmy Reed.)

The 2019 Ruby Valley Field Tour heads out into the field. (Photo GYC/Emmy Reed.)

We live in a remarkable natural landscape. It is home to a complete array of native wildlife, the headwaters of the West, and boasts wide open spaces on both public and private land. It is of deep importance to indigenous people who have lived here since time immemorial and whose relationship with the land continues to this day. It is also important to everyday Montanans with a wide variety of backgrounds, interests, professions and political views. A lot of people care about this place and have strongly held opinions about how to manage and conserve its iconic lands, waters and wildlife.

Our work in Southwest Montana navigates a complicated tapestry of public and private lands. Keeping this tapestry intact is critical if we want to ensure greater Yellowstone doesn’t become an isolated preserve disconnected from the lands that are crucial to all wildlife that depend on a vast connected landscape. Thousands of elk, pronghorn and mule deer summer in Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding public lands and winter on private working ranches. At GYC we work with both public land managers and private landowners to make this wild heart of North America stronger and healthier than ever.

GYC’s Director of Conservation Siva Sundaresan, Montana Conservation Coordinator Darcie Warden, and Wildlife Program Associate Brooke Shifrin visit with rancher Neil Barnosky to learn about his winter operations. (Photo GYC/Emmy Reed.)

GYC’s Director of Conservation Siva Sundaresan, Montana Conservation Coordinator Darcie Warden, and Wildlife Program Associate Brooke Shifrin visit with rancher Neil Barnosky to learn about his winter operations. (Photo GYC/Emmy Reed.)

Our approach is to listen, learn and work collaboratively with people who are willing to come to the table in good faith and help address the many issues facing Greater Yellowstone and Southwest Montana. Good examples of this include our work with ranchers, government officials, agency personnel and conservation groups who make up the Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance and Gravelly Landscape Collaborative. We don’t always see eye to eye, but we’ve found that over time our different experiences, perspectives and expertise bring to light new ideas and create a fertile environment for conserving this wonderful and complex landscape. It is also where we face inescapable challenges – things like trust-building, compromise, and trying new things – that come with any human enterprise engaged in solving difficult problems.

This type of collaboration has been key to several of our recent successes. Only through collaboration with a wide array of partners and landowners could we pass the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act to permanently protect more than 30,000 acres near Emigrant and Jardine from toxic gold mines. When we partnered with five national forests, we bearproofed 164 campgrounds to keep bears alive and people safe. It’s with Montanans of many backgrounds that we helped pass the East Rosebud Wild & Scenic Rivers Act to protect a beloved river near Red Lodge. And it’s by working with ranchers, state agencies, and our land trust partners that we are close to forever protecting more than 5,000 acres of private ranchlands from subdivision development in key wildlife migration corridors.

(From right to left) GYC’s Darcie Warden, Executive Director Caroline Byrd, and Brooke Shifrin, examine data on the 2019 Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance Field Tour. (Photo GYC/Emmy Reed.)

(From right to left) GYC’s Darcie Warden, Executive Director Caroline Byrd, and Brooke Shifrin, examine data on the 2019 Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance Field Tour. (Photo GYC/Emmy Reed.)

We thank those of you who are willing to set aside perceived differences, sit down, talk without throwing rocks and take the first step toward working with people who might otherwise remain strangers. All of you continue to be an exciting, challenging and necessary part of the conservation story of Greater Yellowstone and Southwest Montana.