OPINION: Public lands unite us in most challenging times

In the midst of a global pandemic, Montanans are able to responsibly find moments of peace on our public lands. Many across our country cannot leave their front door without risking exposure. Safe and easy access to the great outdoors is a privilege we cannot take for granted. Therefore, it is our responsibility to protect these lands and manage them to provide sustainable outdoor recreation opportunities. This is important not just for our own personal enjoyment, but for the public health of all people. Let us think globally and act locally.

A recent state-wide poll affirmed our love of public lands and showed positive results for the Gallatin Forest Partnership Agreement, along with other proposals for river protection, Native American cultural and wildlife preservation, and existing recreational access.

As COVID-19 began to emerge in our state, the University of Montana Crown of the Continent and Greater Yellowstone Initiative conducted its fourth biannual Voter Survey on Public Land. The survey asked Montanans whether they support certain proposed public lands and waters protections. We were grateful to see that 77% of Montanans support the Gallatin Forest Partnership proposal. This proposal would increase protections for the Wilderness Study Area in the Gallatin Range by maintaining existing recreation uses and access, protecting important wildlife areas from disturbance, protecting the headwaters of the Gallatin and Yellowstone rivers, and designating new wilderness.

The poll confirms what many of us in Montana already know: We love our outdoor way of life and want to see it preserved. We’ve hiked to Grotto Falls with our families, sharing a love of nature across generations. We’ve camped and fished on wild rivers and gone hunting deep in the backcountry. We’ve biked to Emerald Lake on long summer afternoons. Relationships have been strengthened during skiing and climbing adventures. These memories are cherished, just like the mountains, forests and valleys we explore.

With so many hardships in the news over the past several weeks, it’s been encouraging to see these strong poll results in favor of protecting our wild backyard. Public lands unite us as Montanans no matter our backgrounds. Montanans have a long history of working together to protect our public lands. We believe the Gallatin Forest Partnership proposal is the next step in Montana’s conservation legacy.

Now is the time to learn about the Gallatin Forest Partnership Agreement and see if you agree with the 77% of Montanans who support our proposal to protect wildlife habitat, recreation, clean water, nearly 130,000 acres of wilderness, and more. Add your name to our endorsements along with the over 850 individuals and 100 local businesses that have already supported it. By doing so, you’re looking out for the future of the Gallatin and Madison ranges because our national forests help clean the air we breathe and protect the water we drink.

Finally, as we take to the trails this week to enjoy parts of the Gallatin Range, let’s consider our neighbors. We need to continue working together to keep each other safe. Find another spot to recreate if the first trailhead you choose is overflowing. Maintain proper distance (at least 6 feet!) even when recreating, and step aside to give others ample room to pass on trails.

The Gallatin Forest Partnership has gained the support of a lot of local businesses, and now it’s our turn to support them. Purchase (if you’re able to) a gift card from one of these folks. And to all the essential workers among our hundreds of supporters, thank you for the incredible job of keeping society functioning.

Now is the time to put aside our differences, truly listen, and find realistic, on-the-ground solutions. The Gallatin Forest Partnership believes we can accomplish more for our wild places and our community working together.

Hilary Eisen, Ian Jones and Dane Rider are members of the Gallatin Forest Partnership. Dane Rider is a BHA life member and the Region 3 Chapter Leader for the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.

About Dane Rider

Hunter, gatherer, Fisherman, wild cooking enthusiast, conservationist and lover of beer

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