30 by 30: What does it mean to you?

 

The Gallatin Wildlife Association is able to report that we have been actively engaged in doing just that over these past 45 years of existence. We consider ourselves a partner in this pursuit and effort and agree with the goals of the administration. Our grassroots organization has consistently been doing the work necessary to preserving the ecological integrity of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and surrounding lands in southwest Montana.

 

The Gallatin Wildlife Association (GWA) is a local, all volunteer wildlife conservation organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of wildlife, fisheries, habitat and migration corridors in Southwest Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), using science-based decision making. We are a non-profit 501-c (3) organization founded in 1976. GWA recongnizes the intense pressures on our wildlife from habitat loss and climate change, and we advocate for science-based management of public lands for diverse publi values, including but not limited to hunting and angling.

 

The policies and actions below are steps GWA believes would be necessary to achieve the goal of protecting 30% of our lands and waters by 2030.

  1. The preservation of Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem needs to remain intact.

The full extent of lands recognized as part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) must be included in this effort. This ecosystem is arguably the last .

 

One of the largest unprotected wildlands in the northern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) is the Gallatin Range. Biologically it is one of the most diverse and important areas in the entire GYE. The range is critical habitat for grizzly bear, lynx, wolverine, bighorn sheep, and other more rare mammals. In addition, the lower elevations sustain thousands of wintering elk and contain an important wildlife migration corridor.

 

Early winter scene in the Gallatin Range, Custer Gallatin National Forest, Montana.

The Montana Natural Heritage Program lists 18 birds, 8 mammals, 3 fish, 3 amphibians, and 1 reptile as “at risk” or declining in numbers, demonstrating the need to provide the strongest protection possible for this area.

 

Wilderness designation is the “Gold Standard” for land protection, yet the 2020 Revised Forest Plan proposal submitted by the U.S. Forest Service removed lands previously designated by Montana law as potential future wilderness. Commercial logging, mining, and potential oil and gas development would be permitted. Increasing use by mechanized and motorized recreation will degrade the existing wilderness character of lands previously recognized as critical habitat.  

 

The Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area (HPBH WSA) has had a long history of wilderness advocacy and strong local support. Land trades costing millions in the 1990’s took place to consolidate these lands under federal ownership for the purpose of future eligibility for Congressional designation as Wilderness. The 155,000-acre HPBH WSA should not be diminished but should be the base for additional acreage with the same ecological importance and integrity. The proposal by the Custer Gallatin National Forest under the previous administration is contrary to the President’s Executive Order.

 

  2. Our forest needs to be viewed from a different perspective.

The GYE is under assault from many of the obvious anthropocentric threats of today, threats which foreshadow to weaken this rare ecological wonder. But perhaps the most important and critical threat today is that of climate change.

 

Climate change is transforming plant and animal communities, pushing some to the edge of extinction. The GYE provides a refuge of viable habitat. Resiliency depends largely upon giving plants and animal species plenty of terrain where they can move in accordance with changing food sources that sustain them. The 2017 Montana Climate Assessment describes what’s in store for southwest Montana. The alarming realities are unfolding, and we can only expect those realities to become more intense.

 

Gallatin Wildlife Association is promoting a new paradigm for the U.S. Forest Service. Our forests have a greater and more valuable role for the service of man than providing timber. At this time, the natural process of carbon sequestration is critical to the fight against climate change effects. Keeping large protected untrammeled forests intact has great value to the survival of mankind and this planet. Uses under the 1960 Standard Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act, based upon extraction and exploitation of our natural resources, were developed based on assumptions that resources were infinite. In this new century, we must bring to bear the recognition we have today that these resources are valuable for reasons that are independent of man’s use or pleasure. Perhaps we can protect these resources so that they are here for the benefit of the planet and the survival of all living things. It is time to plan accordingly.

 

We believe this is at the heart of the President’s Executive Order 14008. This is why we are fighting and struggling to protect wilderness as it is, to fight climate change, and to provide for the general biodiversity and biological integrity that sustains all living things.

 

Fire scarred land from the Millie Fire, Storm Castle Drainage, Custer Gallatin National Forest, Montana.

 

3. The GYE is part of the greater whole. Connectivity needs to be reestablished.

 

Ill-advised logging projects and proposals to intensify recreation in the CGNF threaten to sever a critical wildlife corridor that links the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem with comparable landscapes further north.  The northern Gallatin Range and both faces of the Bridger Range formulate a historical wildlife corridor to the north, part of the connectivity route between the GYE and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE). This route and others preserve the ecological integrity of the GYE and maintain the biological integrity of species therein. This and other wildlife corridors are ingrained into the species genetic DNA to migrate from ecosystem to ecosystem.

 

The CGNF does acknowledge the importance of this wildlife corridor and sets aside land allocations called Key Linkage Areas to implement that purpose in their final plan. However, by doing so, they also place stumbling blocks in the way of migrating wildlife undermining the original intent. The Forest Plan proposed to intensify recreation in the Hyalite drainage and have more mountain biking trails in the West Pine Creek drainage just west of Hyalite. They are also proposing a logging project in the Bozeman Municipal Watershed, which is also part of the Key Linkage Area. The cumulative impacts of these projects may doom any chance for wildlife connections and corridor success.

 

Protecting connectivity routes are necessary for wildlife to maintain viability. They’re necessary for the species to search out alternate food sources, maintain genetic diversity, utilize escape terrain and to escape the harmful effects of climate change. Local groups along with GWA are working to protect those corridor routes from Yellowstone National Park to I- 90 northwards. Consequently, all are working to have a safe wildlife overpass over the interstate in order for wildlife to move into the Bangtails and the Bridgers northward to the NCDE. 

 

(A map of the draft final is imported above and you can see the shrinking of the WSA. The closing of the wildlife corridor, the changing land use categories from WSA to backcountry use and recreation emphasis open up the landscape to unfavorable condition

 

In Conclusion: The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is key to the Biden’s Administration goal to protect 30% of Nations lands and waters.

 

There is much to do. In addition to recognizing the importance of the GYE proper and the preservation of wilderness lands contained therein, we need to have a paradigm shift over the importance of our forest. We need to see them for what they are; a cure for the assault of climate change and a necessity for the benefit of the planet. Finally, there needs to be a recognition that the GYE is key to establishing wildlife connectivity not only in Montana, but throughout North America.

 

But the work does not end there. Much harm has been done and is being done by the decisions of the previous administration. Further work needed is listed below.

  1. The previous administration has interfered upon the local management of public lands, the resources, and the wildlife by ignoring climate change, lifting the protections of wildlands, abdication of proper scientific management of forests, and allowing some barbaric practices associated with the hunting and unnecessary killing of our wildlife.

 

  1. There needs to be a review of all the above past practices, and an educational program to enlighten the general public. There needs to be a truth-telling of the status of the lands and the wildlife living on those lands.

 

  1. One of the struggles GWA found in dealing with the U.S. Forest Service is the lack of inclusion under the Species of Conservation Concern. There needs to be greater inclusion of species representing the forest which reflect the reality on the ground.

 

  1. There needs to be an adherence to the principles of protective management. There have been too many exceptions made to existing and designated protective land allocations. By doing so, it’s increased habitat fragmentation beyond the capability of repair.

 

  1. Our forests need to have a sincere and scientific review of proper management to with stand the onslaught of climate change. A new paradigm needs to be in place in management so we can let nature help us overcome the negative effects of a warming world.

 

The time before us is now. If not, the GYE in Montana will be exposed to further harm. The lands will not be protected or conserved for future posterity and the rich biodiversity will be changed forever. The effects of climate change will make wildlife unable to adjust, diminishing biological diversity and integrity of the GYE. Wildlife habitats will shrink. Wildlife corridors gone. We asked a wildlife professional, what will happen to them? He said, “they will wander off and die because there is nowhere for them to go”.

 

We at the Gallatin Wildlife Association asks that the Biden Administration help work with us to meet the goals of the Executive Order 14008. We want to be part of the solution. We are living in the greatest scientific experiment of our country in terms of renewing and protecting this vast ecological niche. As they say, help us, help you.

 

We personally want to thank the Biden Administration for the desire to protect our natural world. In terms of land and water, climate and wildlife, open spaces and forests; all resources are interrelated with each other and us. GWA wants to be a partner in this effort. 

 

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