Preserve the sacred lands of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

Hiker, Mollie
Matteson, Windy Pass, Gallatin Range Proposed Wilderness Gallatin NF

Wilderness designation preserves many values. Designated wilderness is a storehouse for carbon and insurance against climate change. Wilderness preserves critical wildlife habitat and wildlife corridors. Wilderness provides for clean water and clean air. And, of course, designated wilderness protects the scenery and ecosystem integrity that supports Montana’s economy.

However, there is yet another value preserved and enhanced by wilderness designation. It demonstrates a commitment to the inherent reverence and spiritual significance of wildlands.

In every human culture, we find that wildlands are at the core of hallowed landscapes. Sacred lands are places where the usual activities of any society are limited, and people approach these places with respect, humility, and awe.

In every culture that I have reviewed, I have found that high mountains are revered terrain. Mount Olympus was the home of the gods to the ancient Greeks. The Zoroastrian culture revered Mount Damāvand in Iran. Mount Fuji was venerated by the Shinto religion in Japan. Mount Sinai is central to Judaism traditions. The Incas of Peru thought mountains were portal to the Gods. Machapuchare was a sublime Nepalese mountain worthy of a long pilgrimage to visit. Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania was fundamental to African tribal religious beliefs. The ancient Celts of the British Isles honored the forces of nature, and among their sacred mountains was Croagh Patrick in Ireland. The San Francisco Peaks were divine in the natural world of the Navajo. Closer to home is the Crow tribe’s reverence for the Crazy Mountains by Livingston.

Every culture has a way of mountain worship. In American culture, we have hallowed landscapes as well. Designated wilderness, national parks, and such public spaces are our version of “sacred lands.”

A common denominator of these lands is that people generally did not “live” among the sacred lands, but they did visit. And when you visited sacred lands, you did so with respect.

In a sense, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is one of our Nation’s sacred places. The ecological integrity and the spiritual value of this ecosystem are still in jeopardy. As the population of Montana and the country continues to grow, these sacred places become even more critical to our society.

We have a chance to demonstrate our appreciation for sacred places of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem by designating wild places like the Gallatin Range, Crazy Mountains, Pryor Mountains, Lionhead, and other roadless lands of the Custer Gallatin National Forest as designated wilderness.

Wilderness is our society’s way of codifying self-restraint and humility and appreciation for natural processes and landscapes.

The Custer Gallatin National Forest wildlands are essential to our culture, but also vital to the “others” or the creatures that reside on these lands such as grizzly bear, bighorn sheep, wolverine, elk, trout, on down to butterflies and other insects.

The opportunity may not come again. We, as a society, have an obligation and responsibility to preserve the sacred lands of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. We can do this by supporting wilderness designation for the Custer Gallatin National Forest roadless lands.

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and has published 38 books including “Protecting the Wild: Parks and Wilderness the Foundation for Conservation.”


  1. Nancy Ostlie Avatar
    Nancy Ostlie

    Beautifully written!

  2. Bruce Bowen Avatar
    Bruce Bowen

    “Brother, our seats were once large and yours small. You have now become a great people, and we have scarcely a place left to spread our blankets. You have got our country , but are not satisfied; you want to force your religion upon us.” Red Jacket, Wolf Clan, Seneca tribe.

    Native Americans needed to practice their form of spirituality in nature. The white, predominately Christian population would not allow it because money is more powerful than god. And the resources of the natural world potentially constitute a lot of that money.

    Currently, wilderness areas are being targeted by businesses to provide various forms of active “recreation” which will of course ruin it. The power of the corporate neo-liberal cabal is destroying our chances for a truer form of spiritual development. It is also destroying our chances for survival.

    1. Chris Zinda Avatar
      Chris Zinda

      The community is willing and able to cooperate with industrial recreation.

      Just look at all of their bottom lines (IRS 990s).

  3. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Yes, nice post! You really do feel a sense of spirituality and sacredness at the mountains.

  4. Terri Ducay Avatar

    Love your sentence: ‘Wilderness is our society’s way of codifying self-restraint and humility and appreciation for natural processes and landscapes.’ Thank you.

  5. Chris Zinda Avatar
    Chris Zinda


    Makes me remember the old days of rick & ice flowery prose.

    I gotta pack up my car for a 200 mi rd trip for my Patacucci spirit. Do some extinction tourism while recreating my soul.

    1. Hiker Avatar

      On the other hand if no one is allowed to play on our public lands would most lose interest? Is it worth the sacrifice to have some advocates? Would there even be crowded National Parks if they had been off-limits from the start. BTW, there is always a place to go to find solitude. And, yes Chris, I know, wildlife remove themselves from people. But consider this; most mammals are nocturnal and they use our trails every night. Try hiking just before sunrise and see. Yesterday I saw raccoon, deer, javelina, squirrel, quail, and rabbits tracks. They use our trails when we don’t. I would say our trails make their travels easier.

  6. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    You never know what you will see, I was out birdwatching at the beach yesterday, and I turned a corner and saw about twenty Brandt geese in the water, hopping over the waves as the tide came in – almost like surfing.

    A northern harrier, lots of sanderlings, gulls and other water birds. No snowy owls, but they have been seen in this area too.

    For those who follow, the GBBC is coming up Feb. 14 – 17:


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