Wilderness gold standard



If you’re concerned about gold mining in Paradise Valley, gas drilling in the Livingston viewshed, or grizzly bear delisting, you should be doubly concerned about the future of the Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) on the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

The best way to conserve wildlife and the ecological health of our wildlands — especially with increasing human use, climate change, and encroaching private land development — is through Wilderness designation.

In its draft Forest Plan, the Custer Gallatin Forest announced that it recommends only about 85,000 out of 230,000 WSA acres in the Gallatin Range be designated as Wilderness. And this acreage is divided into two different units. A basic principle of habitat protection is that the larger the protected unit, the better. The more fragmented the unit, the less effective for conserving wildlife.

The Buffalo Horn drainage — the most important wildlife habitat in the Gallatin Range — was not even recommended for Wilderness. And no Wilderness was proposed in either the Bridger Range or the Crazy Mountains.

Closer to home, the West Pine Creek WSA was also not recommended for Wilderness. Special interests have even proposed it be open to more trail building for mountain bikes. They have dubbed it a “Wildlife Management Area.” Comparing the level of protection afforded by Wilderness with the level of protection afforded by their “Wildlife Management Area” is like comparing a vine ripened tomato to a bottle of catsup.

Do we want to keep these wild places wild, or do we want to go the way of Colorado, California and so many other states that have become just outdoor gymnasiums with nice scenery? Wilderness is the gold standard for conservation. Montana is the gold standard for wildlife and wild places. It would seem like a perfect match, but this is not reflected in proposals from the Forest Service and special interest groups.

Tell the Forest Service (cgplanrevision@fs.fed.us) you want to see significantly more land designated as Wilderness than currently proposed. Future generations of both people and wildlife will be grateful.

Dennis Glick