Wilderness Compromisers TWS, GYC, MWA

Bob Marshall, Aldo Leopold, and Olaus Murie, legendary biologists and founders of The Wilderness Society (TWS), must be crying in their graves.

When Marshall founded the Wilderness Society, he wrote: “We do not want those whose first impulse is to compromise. We want no (fence) straddlers for in the past they have surrendered too much good wilderness and primeval areas which should never have been lost.“

Marshall would have been chagrined and dismayed to see that the Wilderness Society he founded to fight for wildlands is now among the compromisers he feared.

In a May 10th editorial on the future of the Gallatin Range Wildlands in the Bozeman Chronicle, TWS’s Travis Belote advocated for support of the Gallatin Forest Partnership (GFP) proposal that would designate less than half 1/2 of the Gallatin Range roadless lands (about 102,000 acres out of a possible 230,000 acres) as wilderness.

The GFP leaves out the ecologically critical Buffalo Horn-Porcupine drainages (BHP) and West Pine area from any wilderness proposal. Lying along the northern border of Yellowstone, the BHP is a vital link that connects Yellowstone with the points further north in the Gallatin Range and west into the Madison Range. The West Pine area on the northern end of the Gallatin Range is also an essential linkage that will help make it easier for wildlife to move between the northern Gallatin Range and Bridger Mts.

 In the soon to be finalized Custer Gallatin National Forest Draft Forest Plan Alternative D would recommend the Buffalo Horn-Porcupine drainages as wilderness, as well as many other fine wildlands, but sadly TWS, as well as other compromisers like the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Montana Wilderness Association, are not advocates of Alt. D.

The Wilderness Society “straddlers” are championing a proposal that would feature mountain biking, motorized uses, and perhaps even logging under the guise of forest health in the most critical and biologically important drainages of the Gallatin Range.

The May 10th essay talks about including all the stakeholders but ignores the voiceless stakeholders–the wildlife from grizzlies to bighorn to Wolverine to elk that rely on wildlands for their habitat.

Wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is increasingly under stress from human encroachment. Recreation is not conservation. Supporting a proposal that allows the best wildlife habitat like the BHP to be a playground for mountain bikers and other recreational “stakeholders” is a crime.

There are plenty of places to ride a bike, but there are few places where grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, elk, and other wildlife can roam. Can’t we at least give them a little bit of room to roam?

If the Buffalo Horn and Porcupine areas are left out of the future Gallatin Range Wilderness and is nothing more than into a mountain bike playground, that will be TWS, GYC, and MWA’s legacy.

That is a legacy that would sadden Bob Marshall and the other founders of the Wilderness Society.

I think I hear their cries.


  1. idaursine Avatar

    🙁 When does this continual creep stop? That’s the point of protection of these places – opening the door will be a continual creep.

  2. Nancy Ostie Avatar

    This is the unfortunate truth. Hopefully we will convince our friends at MWA, TWS and GYC to change their position in favor of Wilderness protection for 230,000 acres in the Gallatin Range rather than proposing Recreation Emphasis areas for one-of-a-kind habitat for the amazing wildlife habitat in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Please write comments to the Custer Gallatin National Forest in support of Alternative D with 230,000 acres of recommended Wilderness at https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public//CommentInput?Project=50185
    before June 5. Thank you.

  3. Chris Zinda Avatar
    Chris Zinda

    “Recreation is not conservation.”

    Regarding TWC and the capture of, really, the entire environmental movement by industrial recreation, I’m glad you are now ‘woke,’ George.

    Back to my question:

    Do many designated wilderness areas remain ‘untrammeled’? If not, will/should they be delegislated like Cycad National Monument? Gatekept for the righrs of nature during the 6th mass extinction?

  4. idaursine Avatar

    “Recreation is not conservation.”

    That’s for sure.

    The pattern I’m seeing many times is that with wildlife encounters and wreckreationists, it doesn’t end well for the wildlife. Some seem to be ‘surprised’ that an animal would show up on their turf or hiking trail, and not preparing for a wildlife encounter is the norm.

    We’ve all read I think about the hiker that made sensational news by fighting for his life against a mountain lion – when the truth was it was a young lion that still had his milk teeth! And the photo of a burly thug of a F&W officer with a shotgun going out to kill a grizzly in retaliation for a fatal encounter with a mountain biker.

    I hear a lot that if people get out there and enjoy wild places, it means they will love and protect the land. Maybe the land for their own use, but not the wildlife who also have a right to live there. Many bring their expectations of human societal life to these places, and do not prepare.

    1. STG Avatar

      “wreckreationists”- a classic comment that really captures the essence of the problem!

  5. Greg McMillan Avatar
    Greg McMillan

    Well said.

  6. Susan Barmeyer Avatar
    Susan Barmeyer

    I still remember the horrible shock I had when I encountered my first bicycle in a Wilderness area. Wilderness ethics must be taught and practiced by all who enter Wilderness. How do we make that happen?

    1. Chris Zinda Avatar
      Chris Zinda

      In my view, only through carrying capacities and quotas, as the ‘Natural Rights’ of anarchy extend from Bundys to ‘outdoorists Instgram influencers,’ dark money of capitalism funding the ohilosophy of both regarding public lands – any land – as ‘property’.

      From a piece I recently submitted:

      ” Delegislating Wilderness

      I maintain many designated areas in the United States no longer meet the definition of the 1964 Wilderness Act and must be delegislated if the impacts of industrial recreation are not controlled to maintain an untrammeled state. These controls can only the placed by the Federal government from the consent of the governed, a difficult task as both capitalism and anarchistic freedom, collectively known as ‘Natural Rights,’ colludes with the myth of environmental education’s role in self control.

      A recent spate of Instagram is ruining the outdoors pieces have a central theme that geotagging locations increases visitation and natural/cultural resource impacts. The counter from the aggrieved ‘influencers’ who work alongside the Outdoor Industry Association (and who describe themselves as public lands advocates) has been that white men are gatekeeping, recreation is inherently a virtue and all we need is more infrastructure and education to accommodate more people, a failed refrain with no mention whatsoever of the Rights of Nature to exist unmolested.

      The Wilderness Act was passed “to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition…” describing its primary characteristic, “as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain…retaining its primeval character and influence….”

      Saylan and Blumstein destroy the environmental education myth in The Failure of Environmental Education (And How We Can Fix It), maintaining we have created environmentally parroting kids whose actions do not transcend to adulthood, climate change (and now, extinction) an indication of the failure.”


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