Public lands in public hands: the Gallatin Forest Partnership

As a community organizer, I spend a lot of time thinking about how and why people come together. In today’s age of polarizing politics, common ground is admittedly hard to come by. Fortunately for us in Montana, we’ve got plenty of it – over 30 million acres, in fact. Our abundant public land is the literal common ground upon which all manner of Montanans stand to celebrate, enjoy, and defend. Never has this been clearer to me than when I joined a strikingly diverse crowd of over 1,800 for the recent 2019 Rally for Public Lands. Duck hunters in blaze orange cheered alongside binocular sporting birdwatchers. Grandparents shaped by a lifetime enjoying public land held up grandchildren just starting to grasp the vastness of their inheritance. We all clapped and hollered together as speakers like Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and Dr. Shane Doyle of the Crow Tribe spoke about the fight to keep public lands in public hands. 

Hundreds of public lands supporters gathered at the Montana State Capitol on January 11 for the Rally for Public Lands. (Photo Eliza Wiley.)

Hundreds of public lands supporters gathered at the Montana State Capitol on January 11 for the Rally for Public Lands. (Photo Eliza Wiley.)

But we hadn’t just come to celebrate; we’d gathered to defend. To me, public lands form the foundation of our American heritage, if we can only manage to keep them. And in the face of a changing climate, private interests, and booming populations, that’s easier said than done. But there’s no shortage of opportunities to act. To this end, in early 2019 we’ll have a once in a lifetime opportunity to secure the future of our wild backyard: The Gallatin and Madison mountain ranges. 

More specifically, we have a chance to help shape the Custer Gallatin National Forest’s new management plan. Simply put, this plan determines how over 18,000 acres of public land will be managed for the next 30 years, including how wildlife is considered and where we can hunt, ski, climb, bike, hike, and more. Nowhere is this more critical than here in the Gallatin and Madison ranges. Located next to Bozeman’s rapid growth, these lands generate over $200 million and 2,000 jobs for local economies. That’s a big deal.  

The trouble is, some land uses don’t always mix well, leading to conflict between user groups that, at the end of the day, are on the same side. Enter the Gallatin Forest Partnership. Since 2016, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition has collaborated with sportsmen, conservationists, mountain bikers, and other partners to find a solution that protects these mountains’ wild character while keeping access for the different ways we recreate. It’s been a long and winding road, but the Partnership’s agreement gives all of us, people and wildlife alike, the trails, clean water, and quite spaces we need to thrive. It has already been endorsed by a long list of businesses and people from around the state, but we’ll need your help to see this through! 

In early 2019, we can submit comments to the Forest Service to support this groundbreaking agreement.  We’ll be reaching out to you when that time comes.

Your voice matters. What's at stake here is nothing less than the very character of our home and community. We’ve got about three months to make ourselves heard, and the next 30 years to reap the rewards. Visit http://greateryellowstone.org/custer-gallatin-national-forest or email me at rcruz@greateryellowstone.org to get involved. 

-Ryan Cruz, Montana Conservation Organizer