“Conservation” Groups Cheer Recreation over Wilderness Protection

The Custer Gallatin NF plan that so-called big green groups are cheering reduces wilderness protection for the Gallatin Range. The Forest plan recommended wilderness consists of high alpine terrain while promoting less protection for the best lower elevation wildlife habitat. Photo George Wuerthner 

The following link to an editorial by Winter Wildlands appeared in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.  It celebrates the recently released Custer Gallatin National Forest Plan which reduces wilderness protections on the forest, yet is cheered by Montana “big green groups”.

Emigrant Peak part of the 56,000 acre Emigrant-Dome Mountain proposed addition to the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness and a critical wildlife migration corridor and elk winter range is a portion of the 1.1 million acres of roadless lands on the CGNF that qualify for wildernesss  did not get any recommended wilderness in the CGNF plan. Photo George Wuerthner 

The recreation-promoting crowd in Bozeman (GYC, Wild Montana, TWS,) masquerading as conservationists all are cheering the CGNF designations.
All these organizations are enthusiastic about the new Custer Gallatin NF plan. The CGNF plan calls for a paltry 140,000 acres of recommended wilderness out of 1.1 million potential roadless lands that could qualify for wilderness. See the map of potential wilderness at this link. https://www.gallatinyellowstonewilderness.org/
The Buffalo Horn drainage contains some of the best wildlife habitat in the Gallatin Range, but the Forest plan recommends “backcountry” status which is an administrative designation that provides less protection than wilderness. Photo George Wuerthner 
There is nothing in this editorial about protecting wildland values and wildlife habitat of the CGNF. These groups are celebrating THE LOSS of wilderness and are culpable in its demise. Note that the Forest Plan they are applauding reduces the S.393 Buffalo Horn Porcupine Hyalite Wilderness Study Area from 151,000 acres to 78,000 acres and the loss of recommended wilderness from the last Forest plan for the Lionhead area by West Yellowstone. And this is something these groups are cheering?
The lower elevation portion of South Cottonwood drainage is recommended as “backcountry” instead of the more protective wilderness status. Photo George Wuerthner
There is nothing in this about human impacts on wildlife. It’s about how great it is that “everyone” gets to play.
I’m not against enjoying the natural world, but wilderness is the “gold standard” for protecting wildlife and wildlands values.  The CGNF “recommended” wilderness is primarily the rocks and ice-high alpine terrain, and the “other” designations she applauds allow more human intrusions and potential manipulation (logging) in the best wildlife habitats.

Hyalite Lake, part of the Buffalo Horn Porcupine Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area. Photo George Wuerthner 

If you look at the different designations for the Gallatin Range, the majority of the “recommended” wilderness is high, steep alpine/subalpine terrain. I love that kind of country.
The CGNF plan recommends less than 10,000 acres for wilderness consisting of high alpine terrain, while it  proposes 30,000 acres as backcountry. Photo George Wuerthner 
However, nearly all the lower elevation valleys which contain the best wildlife habitat are under either less protective backcountry and recreation designations–both administrative designations that lack the legal designation that comes with wilderness. The same less protective designations are recommended for major portions of the Crazy Mountains, Pryor Mountains, and Lionhead.

Pryor Mountains near Billings, Montana. Photo George Wuerthner 

 And the CGNF plan has nothing for large chunks of roadless lands adjacent to the AB Wilderness like the Deer Creeks, Emigrant to Dome Mountain, Line Creek Plateau, Rock Creek, and other lands the border the Lee Metcalf Wilderness like the upper Taylor Fork area that should be added to the existing wilderness.

Hebgen Lake from Lionhead area which was recomended wilderness in the 1987 Forest Plan now downgraded to “backcountry” status. Photo George Wuerthner 

I remember the day when groups like GYC and Wild Montana (aka Montana Wilderness Assocaition) championed wilderness designation of lower elevation areas to protect wildlife. Cumulative impacts were the concern. That doesn’t seem to be on the radar screen of today’s professional “conservationists” who seem more interested in preserving their recreation over other values.
Nearly all of the logging that occurs on the CGNF is deemed for “fuel reduction” and “forest health”. Backcountry and recreation designations will permit such logging Photo George Wuerthner 
“Note the sleight of hand in this editorial. The author says “backcountry” designation won’t allow commercial logging in places like the Buffalohorn Porcupine area and South Cottonwood area of the Gallatin Range which are designated backcountry instead of recommended wilderness in the CGNF plan. That is incorrect.
An example of “vegetation management” on the CGNF or what in the old days was called logging. Photo George Wuerthner
The Forest Plan says: “The backcountry areas are not suitable for timber production. Vegetation management, including timber harvest, is suitable for purposes such as fuels reduction, restoration, or wildlife habitat enhancement.”

Crazy Mountains near Livingston. The CGNF recommended less than 10,000 acres for wilderness in this spectacular mountain range. Photo George Wuerthner

Thus logging will not be done for so called “timber production” but commercial timber sales will still occur in backcountry areas under the euphenism of “vegetation management.”  Almost all of the commercial logging occurring on the CGNF is for fuel reduction or forest health, not for timber production.  The logging in backcountry areas will still be commercial, which means the trees are cut by private logging companies and hauled out of the forest on new logging roads to a timber mill.”
These groups are part of the shameless Forest Service propaganda machine.
The Taylor Fork of the Madison Range is among the many roadless areas that the CGNF failed to recommend as an addition to the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. Photo George Wuerthner 
The CGNF highest values are the three W’s:  its wildlife, watershead and wildlands values. These values got short shift from the Forest Plan that green groups celebrate.


  1. Robert Goldman Avatar
    Robert Goldman

    Thanks for this truth telling again, George. Bob Marshall and Edward Abbey would be appalled by these alleged conservationists.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Everybody ever in the environmental movement would be.

  2. Joanne Favazza Avatar
    Joanne Favazza

    These so-called “conservationists” may very well be the death of wild places. Unbelievable.

    1. Chris Zinda Avatar
      Chris Zinda

      That’s right.

      But, GW and the enviro movement- from big to small – will never say this. They’re captured by industrial wreckreation’s money and, more importantly, ethic that outdoor wreckreation is inherently virtuous.

      GW and Nikkas at PIELC 2016 told me they depend on the ‘pretty pictures” crowd. They worry about alienating wreckreationists on which they depend and are not for carrying capacities and quotas to control the hoards precisely because of this.

      So, if the supposed ‘radical’ grass root like GW et al are immune to preservation and policies to protect it, is it any wonder they lost bigly in the Custer-Gallatin?

      And, they’ll continue to lose to Patagonia, VFCorp and the rest.

  3. Maggie Frazier Avatar
    Maggie Frazier

    It appears that these “conservationists” dont really deserve that title – Recreationists suits them better – their only concern is themselves & their freedom to over-run our wild places. Shameful.

    1. Chris Zinda Avatar
      Chris Zinda

      Conservation is a broad title, based in “Wise use.” There is nothing wrong with anyone from right to left calling themselves conservationists.

      Preservation is a very explicit title, based in little or no use.

      There is something very wrong with anyone conflating conservation with preservation – as GW and others constantly do. There are clear definitions of each yet each are constantly conflated on purpose – like Ms. Frazier.

      There is no preservation sidebar.

      1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
        Maggie Frazier

        I have an opinion, Chris – I’m not “inflating” anything.

  4. Beeline Avatar

    Competition for donor base has blinded them so that they forgot their real purpose.

  5. steve kelly Avatar
    steve kelly

    Worship money (mammon) or nature (Creation). Man cannot serve two masters.

  6. Martha S Bibb Avatar
    Martha S Bibb

    Industrial tourism is the demise of wild places and wildlife.

  7. Nancy Avatar

    A glimpse, perhaps? Of what the future of western wildlife might look like in the US? Even though we have nothing to compare to what the plains/wildlife use to look like.
    A few links here


    1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
      Maggie Frazier

      Look at Re-Wilding Europe – what they are doing with their open spaces with re-wilding animals that have been gone for hundreds of years. Horses, buffalo etc. Its really uplifting – then you look at the US!!!! We should be ashamed.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        Europe’s damage to wildlife and the environment, among other things of course, has had far-reaching effects, in our country too, as well as others.

        They’ve got a lot of work to do.

        1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
          Maggie Frazier

          This entire planet – in most places – is guilty of this damage and yeah – an awful lot of work for all of us & them to do.

  8. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    I really don’t understand why people seem to be backtracking on all of the environmental progress that has been made over many years. Extremely worrisome and disappointing.

  9. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    It’s always the same for these issues. Is it really acceptable because we know it could be worse, so that year after year get pittance and crumbs, if that? I can’t celebrate at these greenwashed wins.

  10. Chris Zinda Avatar
    Chris Zinda

    “The recreation-promoting crowd in Bozeman (GYC, Wild Montana, TWS,) masquerading as conservationists all are cheering the CGNF designations.”

    This made me laugh.

    GW dickering, trying to claim the semantic of “conservation” as though his antagonists are not, AGAIN conflating his form of conservation as though it preservation.

    Maybe GW (and WW, WWP) should consider stopping his own masquerade and start self-IDing abd promoting preservation. But, he won’t, as GW IS a conservationist at heart, nothing but playing the edges through a never ending series meaningless editorials.


  11. Doug Gledhill Avatar
    Doug Gledhill

    Given the ecosystem health of the Greater Yellowstone, thanks to past efforts, which, sadly, exists nowhere else in the rest of the 48 states, it is extremely disheartening to see the same ploys and justifications being used once again, that will ensure much of the same outcomes, experienced elsewhere, that will be a real detriment to GYE and its future.

    Selling out, endless excuses, rationalizations and entitlements are common place in this nation, as is a complete disregard for the needs of other species and look where it has gotten us. There are profound problems created by this economic paradigm and a self indulgent mindset that has grown ever more pervasive over the decades and that now threaten even human existence.

    I was really hoping that mankind could for once consider the needs of wildlife and make real accommodation and concessions for them in this ecosystem. This would have provided a ray of hope that mankind actually has the capacity to consider something more than himself. I now have my answer.

  12. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Wasn’t sure where to post. But along the same idea, I am sure there are many who are cheering the switch to alternative energies. But this is exactly what I am afraid of, a bad new deal for birds and other wildlife.

    I’m glad this company was fined, but it can’t bring back the birds:



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