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Custer Gallatin Forest Plan Objection Guidance

On July 9 2020 the Custer Gallatin National Forest released its long awaited Forest Plan, which will set direction for management of the national forest (which combined 2 forests into one, stretching from Montana’s Madison Range all the way to South Dakota). This plan replaces forest plans from the 1980s and will govern management of the landscape for at least 15 years and probably longer.

Gallatin Yellowstone Wilderness Alliance supports Wilderness designation for all remaining roadless public wildlands in the Northern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, including the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

Over 800,000 acres of spectacular roadless public lands are at stake. The plan actually recommends reducing the amount of land currently protected by via Congressionally designated Wilderness Study Area.

The US Forest Service fails in this new plan to protect these iconic wildlands of northern Greater Yellowstone and the wildlife that depend on them. Rare and imperiled wildlife species such as grizzly bear, wolverine, lynx, bison, moose and wolves all depend on these lands for survival and ability to migrate.

How to file an Objection to the Plan

Please file an objection based on your previous comments

At this time the only way to directly influence the final outcome of the plan is through the Objection Process. You can file an objection if you have previously commented on the plan during the four year runup to the final plan. You have until September 8 to file an objection.

You can find the Forest Plan documents here

Our Concerns – Far too little Recommended Wilderness, too much land open to machines

This new Forest Plan falls far short of the potential to protect, for the long term, the shrinking wildlands of the Custer Gallatin National Forest. Only 14.9%of the 844,801 acres of inventoried roadless lands are offered real preservation as Recommended Wilderness.

The Preferred Alternative, Alternative F, is a far cry from our preferred Alternative D, which would have set aside over 700,000 acres of Recommended Wilderness in 39 areas.

Alternative F sets aside a paltry 7 Recommended Wilderness Areas (RWA) totaling 125,675 acres. This plan is clearly a big downgrade even from the weak Gallatin Forest Partnership proposal.

Many areas that should have been designated RWA are instead stuck with a “backcountry” designation.

This is just laziness on the part of the Forest Service, which is unwilling or unable to do the hard work of protecting wildlands. Backcountry designation means very little. It is basically status quo management, allowing mechanized recreation where it already exists and allowing logging. It does nothing to protect wildlife habitat.

Recommended Wilderness in the Plan

The Gallatin Range got 2 RWAs: Gallatin Crest at 77, 631 acres (only a portion of the 155,000 acre Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area) and Sawtooth at 14,461 acres. There are at least 250,000 acres of potential Wilderness in the Gallatins.

The new plan designates the critical habitat of Porcupine and Buffalo Horn creeks as “backcountry”, leaving it open to increasing use by mountain bikers and motorcyclists.

Cowboy’s Heaven in the Madison Range, which has been in several wilderness bills, is stuck with backcountry designation for no apparent reason.

The Pryor Mountains got 2 Recommended Wilderness Areas totaling 18,058 acres. Two other RWAs there also got stuck with backcountry status.

Then Absaroka Beartooth Mountains got one whole RWA at 802 acres. This is shameful.

The Crazy Mountains got one RWA at 10,257 acres. This is hopeful but there are over 80,000 acres of potential wilderness in this range, important spiritual land for the Crow people.

The last RWA is an addition to the south end of the Taylor Hilgard Wilderness at 4,466 acres.

Sioux and Ashland Geographic Areas got no recommended wilderness at all.

The Bridger Range got NO Recommended Wilderness, and only one small Backcountry area (Blacktail Peak) in a place with no trails and no user conflicts at all.

The plan has completely dropped the 22,000 acre RWA in the Lionhead area - it is now “backcountry”, in a complete capitulation to mountain bikers! The 1986 Gallatin Forest Plan recommended 22,000 acres of Wilderness in Lionhead. Where did it go?

Backcountry and Recreation Emphasis Areas – poor substitutes for protection

The new plan creates 13 Backcountry areas totaling 208,959 acres and 10 Recreation Emphasis areas totaling 224,608 acres.

This statement sums up the Recreation Emphasis area designation: “Recreation emphasis areas are suitable for a high density of recreation development” (Page 131 Forest Plan). Note that this sort of intensive, industrialized recreational development is unlikely to benefit sensitive wildlife, and may actually be detrimental to many species.

The Madison Henrys Lake Gallatin geographic area – westernmost portion of the forest with lots of amazing wildlife and wildlands - got 93,995 acres of backcountry areas and 70,444 acres of "recreation emphasis" - the highest of any alternative.

The plan does not close one mile of motorized trail. 24 miles of “mechanized” trail (mountain bike) would be closed. About 10,000 acres would be closed to winter motorized use.

Of the total National Recreation Trail miles on the Custer Gallatin (127), fully 83 miles of that is snowmobile trails. (The Forest Plan wrongly lists their total NR Trail miles as 73).

Forests and logging

Approximately 19 percent of the forest would be deemed suitable for timber production (565,536 acres) and timber harvest would be allowed on an additional 20 percent of forestlands. So fully 39 per cent of the national forest outside of Wilderness areas will be open to logging and associated road building.

The Forest Service wants to be able to log up to 22 million board feet of timber per year. All of this negates the fact that this forest is much too important as wildlife habitat and wilderness to keep hacking away at it for saw logs. Nor is logging any kind of cure for forest fire despite rhetoric from the Forest Service.

Carbon sequestration gets lip service in 2 paragraphs. This shows the Forest Service’s lack of concern with climate change or with climate science and the dire predictions of the Montana Climate Assessment. The Forest Service does not seem to understand we have entered a time of serious climate warming and instability. Intact forests are more important than ever to buffer the effects of climate change.



There are hopeful words in the Forest Plan. Page 63 states, as a goal of the Plan: “Bison are present year-round with enough numbers and adequate distribution to support a selfsustaining population on the Custer Gallatin National Forest in conjunction with bison herds in Yellowstone National Park.” Again, this needs to be more than lip

service, with actual bison roaming free on land within the Custer Gallatin (which they presently do not).

Grizzly Bear

The Plan offers this Goal on page 66: “The Custer Gallatin National Forest works with Federal, State, Tribal, and other willing partners to address the issue of habitat connectivity between grizzly bear ecosystems, with the long-term goal of achieving successful dispersal of grizzly bears between ecosystems, and ultimately increasing the genetic diversity and long-term health of grizzly bears inhabiting the Custer Gallatin National Forest. “

Yet the Plan fails to meaningfully protect the northern end of the Crazy Mountains nor the critical migration corridor in the Bridger Range. Nor is there a plan to protect and connect the fractured habitat around Bozeman Pass and Interstate 90, a major barrier to grizzly bear migration north and south. Porcupine and Buffalo Horn Creeks in the Gallatin Range, key habitat for bears, is left open to increasing mountain biking and motorcycling, leaving poor prospects for grizzlies.

Species of Conservation Concern – a very short list

The only animals listed as “species of Conservation Concern” are the Greater sage-grouse, White-Tailed Prairie Dog, Western Pearlshell and Westslope Cutthroat Trout. So not one terrestrial mammal is listed in the western part of the forest.

If you did not comment during the forest plan process, and cannot file an objection, but still want to help:

Talk to your friends. Write an original letter to elected officials, at city, county, state and federal levels.

Contact your Senator here

Contact other elected officials – federal, state and local - here

Look at the maps to learn more

Donate to support educating citizens about current science affecting the Forest.

Donate to support model legislation to create wilderness in the Northern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Share our website with your like-minded friends and tell them we need many voices now.

Thank you!


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