Letter to FS on protecting the Gallatin Range

To: Mary C. Erickson
Forest Supervisor, Gallatin National Forest
Federal Building
10 E. Babcock Avenue, Box 130
Bozeman, MT, 59771-0130

Dear Supervisor Erickson,
We write on behalf of our organization, Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, in support of the ongoing preservation of the roadless and wilderness-quality lands of the Gallatin Range. We also support the continued management of the Gallatin Range’s Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area as wilderness until Congress makes a decision as to the future of these lands. We understand that the Gallatin National Forest will be revising its travel plan for the WSA in the coming months, and we strongly urge you to consider managing this area for its quiet, backcountry, roadless values.

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA) is an organization dedicated to preserving the American tradition of hunting and fishing in the wild and roadless lands of our great nation. The opportunity to test personal boundaries amid the solitude of the wilds and to engage in fair chase hunting to harvest nature’s bounty is an irreplaceable experience that we want to hand on, intact, to future generations. We believe that the adventure truly begins where the road ends.
BHA works to protect traditional, non-motorized hunting and fishing experiences and the lands that support those activities. Our Montana Chapter is especially interested in the emerging conversation about the future of southwest Montana’s Gallatin Range and the wilderness-quality and roadless lands at its core. Many of our members regularly hunt and fish in the Gallatin Range, and some reside in the shadows of the Range.

The importance of habitat in the Gallatin Range

For most of us Montana backcountry hunters and anglers , the majority of our hunting and fishing takes place on public lands, so we are largely dependent on quality public land habitat. Hunting deep in the backcountry or fishing on a remote stream is an exceptional outdoor experience, increasingly rare in our country where the vast majority of our public lands are roaded or laced with motorized trails. New mapping resources confirm less than 2% of the lower 48 is more than a mile from a motorized route. Wilderness hunting and fishing delivers a sense of freedom, challenge and solitude that is increasingly threatened by the twin pressures of increasing technology and a growing population – something well known to the Gallatin Valley and other communities surrounding the Gallatin Range.
Many iconic fish and mammal species – such as cutthroat trout, grizzly bear and bighorn sheep – thrive best in wilderness. Other more flexible species, like elk and mule deer, still benefit from wilderness. Currently, the Gallatin Range’s Wilderness Study Area provides secure habitat for mountain goat, bighorn sheep, elk, deer, and other game species, as well as cold, clear headwaters for native fish. It’s the last unprotected roadless area in the mountain ranges rising out of Yellowstone National Park, and in addition to secure habitat, it also provides important connectivity for wildlife moving into other parts of Montana. Our members treasure America’s wild and roadless lands, and the Gallatin Range is an important piece of this public trust and future legacy.

The risk of motorized abuse on public lands

All Americans have a right to enjoy our public lands and waters – but no small minority has a right to damage those public treasures. We agree with former Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth when he said that unmanaged motorized recreation is one of the great threats to our national forests. As hunters and anglers we are acutely aware of how the abuse of off-road vehicles scars the land, pollutes water, spreads weeds, frightens wildlife and destroys solitude. Many of us can tell stories of stalks ruined, peace and quiet shattered, and pack strings spooked by illegal off-road vehicles.

We know that the motorized community in southwest Montana has been extremely vocal throughout the Gallatin National Forest’s travel planning process, but we urge you to consider what will be lost should the wild backcountry of the Gallatin Range be opened to increased motorized access. Once lost, it will be difficult and likely impossible to restore the solitude, security, and the exceptional quality of the quiet hunting opportunities in these areas.

Many wildlife needs security provided by large blocks of quiet secure habitat. Motorized routes, whether roads or motorized trails, dissect and fragment big game security habitat. Elk, in particular, are often forced to leave public lands due to lack of large blocks of security habitat on public lands. Elk that leave the public lands find the refuge they are seeking on private ranches, where they are either unwelcome or become the wildlife amenities to wealthy ranch owners. Some elk on the Gallatin are losing their interest to returning to public lands and staying yearlong on private lands. This is already a real issue on the Gallatin National Forest. In addition to loss of important security habitat, excessive motorized access degrades opportunities and the experience of the majority of hunters and anglers. The geographic “footprint” of a single motorized hunter is several times as large as a non-motorized hunter due to the ease and speed of their travel. We support effective enforcement that stops motorized abuse of public lands. The scale of a motorized trail system should be no larger than that which can be effectively enforced. We believe that some places are too wild—and too important as wildlife habitat that provides exceptional hunting opportunity—to allow access using anything other than “the quads God gave us.”

The wild heart of the Gallatin Range is one of these very special places.

Today, we write to express our interest in the management of southwest Montana’s Gallatin Range as wild, roadless, backcountry habitat free from the noise and intrusion of motorized vehicles.

We would like to be kept informed of future planning processes that affect the Gallatin Range, and look forward to championing and defending the values of quiet access and quality opportunities for hunting and fishing in the backcountry of the wild Gallatins. Thank you for your work in leading the management of this very important piece of America’s wild backcountry heritage.

Greg Munther, Chairman
Montana Chapter Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

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