What do you want the world to look like in 20-30 years? That's a big question. It’s the question the Custer Gallatin Forest planning team is working to answer right now.
Granted, the Forest Service doesn’t have to plan for the whole world, but they do have to plan for 3.1 million acres in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. They’ve been at it for a little while now. After two years of public meetings, data collection, and analysis, the Forest Service drafted their first shot at a plan, called the Proposed Action. This is an exciting step because we get to see what they are thinking and we can continue to let them know what we think.
Greater Yellowstone Coalition, along with many other groups and individuals, has also been thinking about the future of the Custer Gallatin National Forest. And there is a lot to think about. There are communities that rely on the health of the forest, like West Yellowstone, Big Sky, Bozeman, Livingston, Emigrant, Gardiner, and Red Lodge, just to name those towns that are a stone’s throw from the forest. There are other communities in and around the forest that are affected by decisions made on and for the forest. There are well-loved and well-used places including Hyalite, the Gallatin Range, Big Creek, Porcupine-Buffalo Horn and areas throughout the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. There is all the wildlife that relies on the forest. And there are the headwaters and rivers that provide clean, cold water to all of us. It's a lot to chew over.
The Forest Service did a pretty good job on the Proposed Action -- we gotta hand it to the team. The first thing to know is this: this high-level plan doesn’t tell people when and where and how to play in the forest. Those directions already exist. What this plan does do is divide up how the forest will be managed based on what uses best suit people, the local economy, and the preservation of land, wildlife and water. Has your head exploded yet? The labyrinth of issues and laws and guidance and the will of the public the Forest Service must consider is a little mind blowing. And they are off to a good start.
The Forest Service will be taking public comment on the Proposed Action through March 5. This is your chance to tell the Forest Service how you think they can improve their initial shot at the plan. GYC has suggestions about wildlife, water, recommended wilderness, watershed protection, and monitoring, to name a few. Because this is such a big plan and many of us care about lots of things about the forest, Greater Yellowstone Coalition and partners will be hosting a comment-writing party on Thursday, Feb. 8, at GYC's office from 5:30-7:30 pm. We'll walk you through the Proposed Action and help you write the comments. To talk to the Forest Service directly, the Forest Service District Rangers are hosting open houses. Click this link to get to their schedule.
Let’s do this together. Each of us know something about the Custer Gallatin Forest. We all care for our own reasons and each one of those reasons is important. The best way, not the easiest way, is to work together, listen to each other and figure out how we as a community living in and around the forest can keep it healthy for future generations.
-- Darcie Warden, Montana Conservation Coordinator