Updated: Jul 19
Today, the wild lands of Southwest and Southcentral Montana face decisions that will have momentous impact on their biological integrity, decisions crucial to the ongoing vitality, richness, and intactness of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, of which we are the custodians and highly blessed co-inhabitants. The Gallatin Yellowstone Wilderness Alliance feels a civic responsibility to inform these decisions.
At the same time, the whole planet and its peoples face an unprecedented and deeply consequential crisis. Even as it has become a commonplace to degrade not only the Earth but also those unlike us, maybe Covid-19 offers us time to collectively address those failings and attempt a sorely needed conversation.
The mission of the Gallatin Yellowstone Wilderness Alliance is to preserve as much as possible of remaining Wilderness-worthy lands, in the Custer Gallatin National Forest, as Wilderness - under the protections of the Wilderness Act of 1964. More immediately, we aim to protect at least the entire Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area as Wilderness, and preferably, all of the eligible 250,000+ acres of roadless lands in the Gallatin Range, bordered by Bozeman and Yellowstone National Park, north to south, and by the Paradise Valley and Gallatin Canyon east to west.
As we are confined to sequestered shelters - if we are among the fortunate who have shelters to go to - we have a chance to pause, take a breath, and think anew about many things. So very much of what is good about us has been hijacked by our culture's perverse side, finding us thoughtlessly exploiting one another and our planet, often mis-using language to defend our errors and to falsely claim the high road. The "collaborate and compromise" model of popular and well-known environmental groups today is one such example. Though the idea sounds good, the compromises over decades have already carved away inestimably important wild lands. In fact, this model has become one of the most ominous obstacles to the task of wild lands preservation here in Greater Yellowstone, as well as across the Northern Rockies, and beyond.
Aldo Leopold wrote that "All ethics so far evolved upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts." He implored us to "examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right," he continues, "when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." Therein lies the hard reality.
The "collaboration and compromise" approach has come unmoored from precisely these ethical and aesthetic foundations, in favor of expediency. One local proposal, popular due to its well-funded and finely crafted public relations campaign, rather than its inherent merits, is the recommended give-away of the most wildlife-crucial parts of the Gallatin Range's Wilderness Study Area, the Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn. If adopted, it would set forth as a victory that some less sensitive lands would be named as Wilderness. Extractive and recreational industries have joined with some environmental groups who, together, present their collaborations and compromises as though they are fine examples of democracy.
Except the collaborators form a self-selected group. They exclude from their deliberations the voices of those who point out the blind spots, dismissing them as residing merely "at the margins." Then they bypass hard scientific explorations of the effects of their compromises, ignoring rigorous ecological considerations and the interdependence of all parts of the holistic Earth.
These so-called "victories" allow for the continued devouring of more and more, when we really need to be saying, "Enough is enough!"
Can we reclaim the words collaborate and compromise, by founding them on an ethics that holds sway for the integrity of the whole, interdependent Earth? Can we have public and open conversations about the right versus wrong that Leopold defines?
Now 90 years old, renowned socio-biologist E. O. Wilson moves from moments of pessimism and grief to surges of hope that humanity and the work of precisely environmental groups such as the Gallatin Yellowstone Wilderness Alliance will ultimately prevail.
Can we as a society manage the tidal shift we need? Do we have what it takes?
Joseph Scalia III
President/Gallatin Yellowstone Wilderness Alliance