Wise up to Protect our Wild Backyard

frequently asked questions on the new custer gallatin management plan

The 3.1 million-acre Custer Gallatin National Forest has some of the best Greater Yellowstone has to offer. Healthy wildlife, endless outdoor opportunities, and the last unprotected mountain range connected to Yellowstone National Park all depend on how well that forest is cared for. Now, the Forest Service is taking a fresh look at how it manages its vast public lands, and we need your voice!

The Custer Gallatin’s Forest Management Plan is up for its once-in-a-generation revision. This gives us our singular best chance to secure a bright future for wildlife, forests, rivers, and the wild places we need to thrive. 

This page will bring you up to speed on the new plan, answer some of the big questions are, and make it easy for you to have the biggest impact possible. We have until June 5th to comment on the Forest Service’s plan, so read on and share!

Photo: Louise Johns

Photo: Louise Johns

What is Forest Planning, and what does it do?

Every National Forest has a management plan, which guides everything from environmental monitoring to timber harvests. The plan can recommend new wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, and much more. It also guides how the Forest Service deals with wildlife, headwater streams, recreational opportunities, and fire, just to name a few examples.

These plans get revised about once in a generation. The Custer Gallatin is due, and the timing couldn’t be better. Booming urban growth, new recreation technology, and a changing climate are putting more and more pressure on our public lands. The new plan is our chance to get ahead of these threats by freezing our footprint, protecting wildlife habitat, and preparing for the uncertainties of climate change. The stakes are high, but success will mean decades of healthier forests.

The best part is, it’s never been easier for you to have an impact! Read up, then follow the links at the bottom of the page to take action.

What is the Gallatin Forest Partnership, and what is their agreement all about?

To see planning done right, we joined some of the area’s most enduring and committed groups to form the Gallatin Forest Partnership. Around the table sit local conservationists, hunters, anglers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, guest ranches, concerned citizens and more. We then worked together for over a year, hammering out exactly what the new Forest Plan needs to do for our local Gallatin and Madison mountain ranges.

The Partnership released its agreement last year, which has since been supported by over 50 business and hundreds of individuals. It’s written by local experts, for local places. We are calling for ~250,000 acres of conservation designations, including 130,000 acres of recommended wilderness, that would effectively cement the recreation footprint as it stands today. Our goal is to protect the landscape while securing access for the many ways we get out and enjoy our public lands. The agreement covers everything from water, to wildlife, to human impacts and more. You can learn more about the agreement and endorse it at gallatinpartners.org.

What areas will be affected?

The new plan will guide land management for the entire Custer Gallatin National Forest. At 3.1 million acres, the forest stretches from Southwestern Montana into South Dakota, and includes some of the most diverse landscapes in the country.

Major portions of Greater Yellowstone are managed by the Custer Gallatin as well, including the gateway to Yellowstone National Park, the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, and the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. Our focus is on these irreplaceable lands, and on the wildlife that rely on them.

We’re taking an especially hard look at the Gallatin Range, which is the last of Yellowstone’s mountains without permanent protections. The new plan gives us a chance to secure their healthy future once and for all.

Photo: Louise Johns

Photo: Louise Johns

What’s the deal with wilderness?

The Gallatin Range has needed permanent wilderness protections for decades. Since 1977, the Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area has set aside land for wilderness consideration, but that’s as far as we’ve gotten. The new forest plan is our chance to see that idea through.

To create new wilderness, the plan needs to make a recommendation to Congress, who can then sign it into law. This would have far-reaching benefits for wildlife and some of our last remaining wild spaces.

We’re pushing for a whopping 130,000 acres of recommended wilderness, which is more than has ever been proposed for this area. Around 100,000 acres of that would protect critical habitat in the heart of the Gallatin Range’s Wilderness Study Area. It would also have far-reaching benefits for our mountain streams and leave wildlife free to move throughout the landscape.

But that’s not all. The plan will also lay out how existing wilderness will be managed. Areas like the Lee Metcalf and Absaroka Beartooth Wildernesses have seen a sharp increase in visits these past years. This, magnified by the stress of climate change, is putting even our most well-protected spaces in jeopardy. We can secure their future by implementing better monitoring programs, forest restoration projects, and other best practices.


What other land designations are you recommending?

Unique places need unique solutions. We’re recommending a package of different land designations that would maintain our recreation opportunities while creating permanent environmental protections.

We’re calling for Hyalite to be made a Recreational Emphasis Area. It’s popularity with the Bozeman community puts it under more human pressure than most nearby areas combined. This designation would give the Forest Service more resources to manage the crowds.

West Pine to the east and Porcupine Buffalo Horn to the south should be protected like Wildlife Management Areas. These areas have seen diverse types of recreation for decades and are also critical for wildlife movement. This designation would mean wildlife don’t have to compete with a growing trail footprint, without reducing our access.


How will this effect wildlife?

Healthy wildlife depends on healthy forests. Ecosystems need to be connected to thrive, and wildlife depend on these lands to move between Yellowstone and the rest of the Northern Rockies. In fact, the wildlife corridor through the Gallatins and Madisons has driven our work here for decades.

That’s why we’re asking the Forest Service to fully recognize wildlife corridors and closely monitor human impacts. We can also use things like natural fire cycles and forest restoration to create diverse habitats for all manner of our native critters. From grizzly bears to wolverines, this is our chance to make sure wildlife is at the center of future forest management.

Photo: Louise Johns

Photo: Louise Johns

What about water?

Many of our state’s rivers including the Gallatin, Yellowstone, and Madison drain the mountains of the Custer Gallatin National Forest. From high among the peaks, headwater streams provide us with clean drinking water and bountiful fisheries. But rising temperatures combined with shrinking snowpacks, erosion, and invasive species put our waters at risk.

We’re pushing to make 33 new rivers eligible for Wild and Scenic designation, which would permanently protect some of Montana’s most important free-flowing rivers and streams. We’re also focusing on maintaining healthy riverside forests, native cutthroat trout populations, and more to ensure that all our waters remain clean and cold for generations to come.


How does outdoor recreation play into all this? Will my access be affected?

Recreational in the Custer Gallatin National Forest is skyrocketing, with no signs of slowing down. These wild places are a big part of why we live where we do. But as our urban centers grow and technology puts even the most remote places within reach, the pressure is building. We all have an impact when we visit our wild backyard, regardless of how we use it.

While the details will be hashed out during a later process called Travel Planning, the new plan will lay out where different types of recreation are and aren’t suitable. For example, mountain biking isn’t allowed in wilderness, but it is on some backcountry trails. This makes the plan a crucial first step toward sustainable recreation. Pushing for monitoring programs and adaptive management is also a big part of this issue. 

It’s time we freeze our footprint. This would keep road and trails from getting denser, without losing any of the access we enjoy today. The Gallatin Forest Partnership Agreement would accomplish this by protecting key areas without affecting the types of recreation allowed today. Wild places would stay that way, heavily used areas would get the attention they need, and wildlife would be protected across the entire landscape.


What’s the timeline for the new plan?

We have until June 5th to comment on the Forest Service’s draft plan. Although the final plan won’t come out until sometime mid 2020, this is the all-important step where we can impact new forest policies.

After the Forest Service wraps up their planning process, we’ll shift our focus to Congress. The Forest can recommend Wilderness, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and other protections, but it’s up to Congress to make it official and permanent. We will remain committed to our wild backyard every step of the way.  

Photo: Louise Johns

Photo: Louise Johns

How can I get involved?

The most important question of all!

First, you can endorse the Gallatin Forest Partnership Agreement for our best shot at permanent, locally-relevant protections. By backing the agreement, you join hundreds of others in sending the Forest Service a strong, unified message. If you’re a business owner, you can also endorse on behalf of your business.

After that, make yourself heard by the Custer Gallatin National Forest itself. Send them a comment explaining exactly what you want to see in the new plan, and the issues you think are most important. You can use our draft comment as is, edit it, or even write your own.

I have more questions. Who can I ask?

Unsure about any of this? Want help writing a unique, effective comment? We’re here for you! Reach out any time to Ryan Cruz, our Montana Conservation Organizer, at rcruz@greateryellowstone.org.