Custer Gallatin Forest Plan Limits Wilderness For Gallatin Range

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

The recently released Custer Gallatin National Forest Service plan shrinks interim wilderness protections for the 155,000-acre Hyalite Porcupine Buffalohorn Wilderness Study Area (HPBH WSA).

The HPBH WSA was established by Senate bill S. 393 in 1977. Among the mandates in the Act: SEC. 3. (a) says: “Except as otherwise provided by this section, and subject to existing private rights, the wilderness study areas designated by this Act shall, until Congress determines otherwise, be administered by the Secretary of Agriculture so as to maintain their presently existing wilderness character and potential for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation Systems.”

Congress did not say “may” maintain, or “could” maintain if it were convenient. The Act says “shall” maintain wilderness character.

Instead of following the Congressional instruction, the Forest Service has permitted non-conforming activities in the WSA such as mountain biking, ORV use, and snowmobiling. Some (Gallatin Forest Partnership) use this past FS inaction to follow Congressional mandates to claim we cannot expect to protect the entire Gallatin Range as wilderness.

Ironically the Bitterroot National Forest which also has two S. 393 areas (Blue Joint and Sapphire Mountains) has determined that they must maintain wilderness attributes by banning mechanical access, including mountain bikes. Tragically, the Gallatin National Forest has decided, in collusion with a number of large s0-called conservation groups that include the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Montana Wilderness Association, Winter Wildlands, The Wilderness Society, and others as part of the Gallatin Forest Partnership, that lesser protective designations are acceptable.

Clearly this was not Congress’s intent. Indeed, in the 1990s Congress directed the Forest Service to acquire private inholdings in the southern part of the range with the expressed intent of enabling future wilderness designation.

The Buffalohorn-Porcupine drainages are the most important wildlife habitat in the entire Gallatin Range. It has the densest grizzly numbers, is elk winter range and migration corridor, plus home to wolves, moose, bighorn sheep, mule deer, wolverine, and other wildlife. If any part of the Gallatin Range should be designated wilderness, this is the spot.

Instead of honoring Congressional intent by recommending wilderness for the entire HPBH WSA, the Forest Service is using an unknown and untested “Backcountry” status for the wildlife-rich Buffalohorn Porcupine drainages which, among other things, permits mechanical access.

With the continued population pressures surrounding the Bozeman area, we need to preserve every last acre of wild country with the strongest and time-tested designations like inclusion in the Wilderness Act. Unfortunately, the Forest Service has failed its ethical and legal obligation to protect the full extent of the Gallatin Range wildlands for biodiversity, carbon storage, and wildlife.

Time for Congress to create a 270,000-acre Gallatin Range Wilderness as advocated by the Gallatin Yellowstone Wilderness Alliance.


  1. Nancy Ostlie Avatar

    Another disappointment under the Trump administration. Too bad these matters end up being resolved in the courts, but at least there is that remedy.

  2. STG Avatar

    The level of hypocrisy and manipulation is appalling! MWA has been co-oped by mountain bikers and other multiple abuse groups. They do not care about wildlife habitat, water quality or the condition of the range/forests. It is all about their fun/wreck-creation. They have totally abandoned the concept of wilderness and lobby the forest service to advance their agenda. The blather, double-speak, convoluted language and propaganda expressed by the Gallatin Forest Partnership makes me want to vomit!!

  3. LKHealow Avatar

    I am in total agreement with the article and previous two responses. For those with a strong stomach, peruse Appendix F of the newly released Custer Gallatin Forest Plan that has condensed objections to the EIS and plan followed by some stunning vagueries and doublespeak in response, completely towing this corrupt excuse for an administration’s party line.


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