The Gallatin Range Sold Out

A group of individuals known as the Gallatin Partnership has colluded to propose a future division of the Gallatin Range into different recreational zones to the detriment of wildlife and wildlands.

The Gallatin Range is the largest unprotected wildlands left in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Stretching south 50 miles from Bozeman to Yellowstone National Park, the Gallatin Range, though already severely fragmented by past logging, ORV use, and other impacts, still contain a 230,000 acre core roadless area.

Much of this core area has been given some modest protection over the years as part of the 155,000 acre Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area set aside in 1977 by the late Lee Metcalf.

Unfortunately, the Gallatin Partnership seeks to further diminish the range’s wildlands character by chipping away at the 230,000 acres of wild country by advocating creation a largely “rocks and ice” high elevation 105,000 acres as wilderness, while proposing diminished protection for the Buffalo Horn and Porcupine drainages as well as the West Pine area as so-called Wildlife Management Areas (WMA).

The creation of WMAs is to facilitate the expansion of mountain biking in these parts of the Gallatin Range.

The irony here is that the Buffalo Horn-Porcupine area may be the best-unprotected wildlife habitat left in the entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. It is a crucial migration route for elk moving from Yellowstone to winter range in the Gallatin and Madison Valleys. It is prime grizzly habitat. It has the best potential for bison recolonization of any parts of the ecosystem. Not to mention also harboring moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, wolverine, wolves, cougar, marten, and other wildlife.

The West Pine area as a lower elevation part of the Gallatin Range is also important for many species as well.

If any part of the Gallatin Range deserves to be protected as wilderness this is the place, yet the Gallatin Partnership, largely representing competing recreation interests, proposes a “wildlife management area” of unknown value and supports the increasing recreational use of these critical areas.

This shameful, self-centered proposal is made worse by the obvious participation, advocacy, and support of so-called “wilderness advocates” working for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC), The Wilderness Society (TWS) and Montana Wilderness Association (MWA).

These groups profess to speak for wilderness and wildlife using science as their guide. But they seem to leave science and wilderness advocacy behind. Increasing recreational use will impact wildlife. It will diminish the wild qualities of the range. Fragmentation will result in less secure habitat for many species of wildlife.

These organizations, along with some mountain bikers and other recreationists, assert they are for protecting wildlands, yet they are willing to sever the Gallatin Range wild country to create outdoor gymnasiums.

What the Partnership could do is advocate for the closure of logging roads in the already fragmented drainages such as Swan Creek, Portal Creek and others radiating out of the Gallatin Range, and using those areas for non-wilderness recreation like mountain biking.

Wilderness is the Gold Standard for conservation. Anyone who professes to speak for conservation must advocate for wilderness designation if they want to protect these lands. Lesser designations mean lesser protection. How can an organization claiming to be a “wilderness advocate” like GYC, MWA, or TWS support anything less than full wilderness protection for the entire range?

Wilderness is our way of writing a new narrative to our relationship to the land. Wilderness is a way to reverse the current view of devotion to self-aggrandizement, control, and domination to one that displays reverence, humility, and respect. Wilderness is about restraint and self-control—and giving consideration to other creatures rather than primarily one’s personal recreational desires.

I am reminded of Bob Marshall’s admonishment when he helped to create the Wilderness Society in 1935. Marshall wrote:” We want no stragglers. For in the past far too much good wilderness has been lost by those whose first instinct is to compromise”.  It is a motto that GYC, MWA, and especially TWs should embrace.

To reiterate another great conservationist, David Brower “Polite conservationists leave no mark save the scars upon the Earth that could have been prevented had they stood their ground.”

Please write the Custer Gallatin National Forest and ask them to recommend a 230,000 acre wilderness for the Gallatin Range. If you are a member of any of these organizations, please write them and express your displeasure that they are selling out wildlands.






  1. Kirk Robinson Avatar
    Kirk Robinson

    This is why I am not a member of these groups. They want to be able to call an area a wilderness and take credit for giving it that official designation, but seem to have lost interest in protecting real wilderness values. This is called hypocrisy. If you want to support a group that is interested in protecting the real thing, support Wilderness Watch instead.

  2. stan sheggeby Avatar
    stan sheggeby

    Please recommend a 230,000 acre wilderness for the Gallatin Range.

  3. Lonna O'Leary Avatar
    Lonna O’Leary

    I don’t think I am a member of any of these organizations George. But I will tell them all Please recommend a 230,000 acre wilderness for the Gallatin Range!
    Anyone who is truly an advocate for wildlife and wilderness must feel the enormity of George Wuerthner’s words of wisdom and agree. It is so very important that we who do actually love and care about our wildlife and our wild lands do everything humanly possible to protect them from becoming recreational wastelands at the expense of the wildlife that depend on them for survival!

  4. Natalie Riehl Avatar
    Natalie Riehl

    These mountain cyclists are not unlike the riders of “Thrillcraft.” (Also the title of your eye-opening book.)

    Turning the wilderness into their “outdoor gymnasiums” is utter self-indulgence, without any thoughts of mindful responsibility to the natural environment.

    1. Rick Hackett Avatar
      Rick Hackett

      These mountain walkers, hikers, runners, trekkers, campers, backpackers, ultralighters, fastpackers, horsepackers, horsebackers, birders, kayakers, rafters, canoers, fishers, hunters, archers, shooters, bushcrafters, trackers, sailors, rowers, packrafters, canyoneers, peak baggers, geocachers, showshoers, skiers, snowboarders, rock climbers, ice climbers, craggers, abseilers, glissaders, slackliners, hammockers, spelunkers, swimmers, dancers, etc. etc. etc are not unlike the riders of “Thrillcraft.”

      Turning the wilderness into their “outdoor gymnasiums” is utter self-indulgence, without any thoughts of mindful responsibility to the natural environment.

  5. Tom McNamee Avatar
    Tom McNamee

    What has become of our beloved GYC? This is disgraceful. First they cave on grizzly delisting, now they want to ride bikes through grizzly country? Maybe with boomboxes, eh? Or at least with earbuds in. You can’t see nature on a mountain bike–it’s a blur–so why bother listening? Eh?


George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner