Collaborative group risks Gallatin National Forest ecosystem’s future

A newspaper ad that Wilderness advocates ran in the Bozeman Chronicle in Montana recently. (Sorry, it’s a funky size and this was the best it could be reproduced here).

The following piece, which ran today in the Montana Standard, seems like a timely post based on recent debates and discussions on this blog. The authors of the following piece are listed at the bottom. – mk

The Gallatin Forest Partnership represents a failure of its members to recognize the crucial importance of the Gallatin Range for the future of Montana’s precious wildlife populations, and a willingness to gamble away this resource by promoting development in prime wildlife habitat.

The starting point for any discussion of the Gallatin Range should be this: the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is universally recognized as the best intact ecosystem in the lower 48, and is considered to be the best functioning temperate ecosystem in the world – with the full complement of wildlife that was here in pre-Columbian times. There is no other place in the lower 48 that has such an intact, wildlife-rich ecosystem, and we shouldn’t gamble with its future! Gallatin Forest Partnership is proposing mechanized recreation (mountain bikes, motorcycles, ATVs) in the best wildlife habitat in the lower 48!

The Gallatin Range provides a migration corridor that connects the abundant wildlife of Yellowstone National Park with the Bangtail/Bridger ranges, northward to the Big Belts, and finally to the wildlife-rich Northern Continental Divide ecosystem, allowing crucial genetic mixing among wildlife populations.

The gaping flaw in GFP’s proposal is its willingness to sacrifice the Porcupine/Buffalo Horn area, immediately north of the Yellowstone boundary. This is an area of low relief, low elevation wildlands that is the best wildlife habitat north of the park. It’s the go-to place for wildlife migrating out of northern Yellowstone during harsh winters. It is home to grizzlies, wolverines (only 300 remaining in the lower 48), and an elk-calving area in the spring. We advocate that Porcupine/Buffalo Horn be designated as Wilderness — the gold standard of protection — because of its importance to wildlife. Recognizing the its quality habitat, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks manages ten sections of land there, with strong habitat-protecting restrictions.

Six of the thirteen members of the GFP are mountain biking advocacy groups, but no wildlife advocacy groups were invited as participants. Many of us ride mountain bikes, but we don’t agree that the best wildlife habitat in the Gallatin Range should be promoted as a mountain biking playground at the expense of wildlife. Studies show that mountain bikes significantly disturb and stress wildlife, almost as much as motorized vehicles. It’s especially disturbing that The Wilderness Society, Montana Wilderness Association, and Greater Yellowstone Coalition are throwing their full weight behind the GFP when we would expect these conservation groups to, first and foremost, protect wildlife habitat. With climate change and explosive growth, Montana’s wildlife will encounter challenges whose magnitude is difficult to anticipate, therefore – to ensure future security for wildlife- we must manage our remaining wild places prudently and conservatively, with permanent protection through Wilderness designation.

Included among the GFP’s mountain biking members are groups that are affiliated with the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), an industry-sponsored trade group whose funders profit from the sale of mountain bikes. Disturbingly, IMBA promotes redrawing wilderness boundaries to allow mountain biking, it opposes any new wilderness designation that disallows bikes, and it supports widespread use of electric-powered mountain bikes (e-bikes). The exploding popularity of e-bikes has the potential to massively disturb wildlife, resulting in more bikers, traveling at faster speeds, and penetrating deeper into remote wildlife habitats.

A perfect example of the shortcomings of the GFP plan can be found in the quality wildlife habitat of the northern Elkhorn Mountains, south of Helena. This area is a Forest Service designated Wildlife Management Area, identical to the designation that GFP proposes for the PBH. Over the last several years, rogue mountain bikers have created a vast network of unauthorized, illegal trails, in many cases using existing game trails, alarming local wildlife advocates and hunters who recognize that designation as a “wildlife management area” has proven ineffective for protecting wildlife. The Forest Service does not have a budget for enforcement. There is no basis for believing that management would be any better in the Gallatin National Forest, to the detriment of wildlife.

It’s increasingly clear that the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Montana Wilderness Association, and Wilderness Society are not making the decisions we would expect them to make to protect Montana’s treasured wildlife.

As the Forest Service releases its new Management Plan, we urge support for Alternative D, which provides maximum wilderness protection for 230,000 acres in our world-class wildlife habitat in the Gallatin Range.

Nancy Schultz and Joe Gutkoski are Gallatin Wildlife Association members. Glenn Monahan and George Wuerthner are Western Watersheds Project members. Nancy Ostlie is volunteer leader of Great Old Broads for Wilderness. Howie Wolkie and Phil Knight are with Montanans for Gallatin Wilderness.

15 thoughts on “Collaborative group risks Gallatin National Forest ecosystem’s future”

  1. “Studies show that mountain bikes significantly disturb and stress wildlife, almost as much as motorized vehicles.” Will someone please direct me to these studies?

    “The exploding popularity of e-bikes has the potential to massively disturb wildlife, resulting in more bikers, traveling at faster speeds, and penetrating deeper into remote wildlife habitats.” Can someone please send data that substantiates this claim, particularly the implication that e-bikes are showing up on non-motorized trails. (The Forest Service considers e-bikes a motorized use and does not allow the use on non-motorized trails.)

    • Hi Bob,

      Frankly, I think you could’ve used a search engine like to find some studies.

      Here are a few, which I got by directly contacting some of the authors of the piece in the original blog post. I have not myself looked at these studies, so please don’t hold me to what they say, or don’t say.

      I also got this from one of the authors of the oped:

      “Study comparing responses of elk to ATV’s, mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding (Naylor et al. 2009) found that elk spent less time resting and more time traveling in response to the disturbance. ATV use caused the greatest disturbance (increase in travel and reduced resting time) followed by mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding.”

      Again, not my words. Just passing along some info.

      • Matthew, thanks for the links. You should know that you included “research” from anti-mountain bike fanatic and convicted criminal (he attacked a mountain biker with a saw) Mike Vandeman. You might want to let the “authors of the piece” know that this guy does not produce credible, peer-reviewed research. The first link is for a literature review prepared for Parks Canada – in that review, the authors found wildlife impacts between bikes and hikers to be similar.
        Matthew, I suspect you will follow this post with an insult or put down of some sort, but I hope not. My issue is that there is no research that ties bikes to significant wildlife impacts. It’s just rather lame that folks continue to make this claim absent any supporting research. We should live in a fact-based society; not one in which opinions are presented as fact. That’s all – have a good day.

  2. More anti-bike hysteria and lies.

    Actually, independent scientific studies show hiking and biking impact on wildlife to be similar. Some have even found hiking impact to be higher since pedestrians are far mor likely to go off trail, thus further intruding on otherwise undisturbed habitat.

    If we need to limit human intrusion to protect wildlife then by all means, let’s do that. But let’s do so scientifically rather than by false supposition and self serving arbitrary distinctions.

    Any time someone talks about protecting wildlife, but only wants to ban bikes and not boots, their hypocrisy is revealed.

  3. The “piece” is a Letter to the Editor printed the “guest view” section of the Standard. It is the opinion, as Matthew correctly noted, from Gallatin Wildlife Association members, Western Watersheds Project members, a volunteer leader from the Great Old Broads for Wilderness and Montanans for Gallatin Wilderness.
    Nothing new here, IMO.

  4. I’m sure there is some good reason Gallatin Range wilderness advocates are reluctant to mention the only actual bill that protects the entire 230,000-acre chunk of land that qualifies for Wilderness Act (1964) protection by CONGRESS. That legislation is The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA). FAct: Only Congress can designate Wilderness.

    NREPA designates all eligible de facto wilderness in the 5-state “Wild Rockies” bioregion.

    If someone out there knows why well-meaning wilderness/wildlife advocates remain silent about this legislative Wilderness option, I, for one, would be most thankful to know what causes this.

  5. First a disclosure, I know quite a few of the members of the GVP, so I’m not unbiased.

    The GVP is what most people in the environmental community advocate that mountain bikers do, bring something to the table that adds value and protects land. In this case a significant portion of the area was set aside as recommended wilderness and closed to bikes.

    The main areas of concern of the article was the Porcupine/Buffalo Horn area. The fact is this areas has both existing and well established mountain biking and snowmobile use that is managed with seasonal restrictions to protect critical habitat. The GVP plan would build on on this and create protocols to protect the area and wildlife based on data.

    Like most editorials where Mr. Wuerthner is involved have an inherent anti-bike bias that seems to drive his beliefs. The fact is IMBA has supported numerous wilderness proposals that close areas to bikes. In Montana they supported the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act and the proposed Blackfoot Clearwater wilderness addition to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. There is the inevitable creation of false equivalence between bikes and motor vehicles (mechanized recreation). In general, there is little support in the literature that suggests that bikes are a unique threat to wildlife distinct from other quiet recreational uses including hiking and backpacking. (here is a good summary, Any management strategy that focuses on bikes and ignores other increased recreational uses is inherently flawed.

    • As Dr. Lance Pysher likely knows:

      Jon Tester’s Blackfoot Clearwater bill would cut the Monture roadless area in half, dedicating the center to snowmobile and mountain bike play areas within an important part of the Bob Marshall country, and prime grizzly bear habitat.

      The Monture-North Fork Blackfoot Inventoried Roadless Area in particular gets dissected in Tester’s bill, with the northern half designated for wilderness while the Otatsy Lakes and Spread Creek areas are turned into play areas for snowmobiles and mountain bikers. A mountain bike play park inside occupied grizzly habitat? Yep.

      Meanwhile, the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act clearly preserves existing motorized use, mountain biking and grazing (now mandated by the bill to continue indefinitely) and logging on over 208,000 acres of public lands. Sure the bill designated 69,000 acres of Wilderness; however, that’s far less Wilderness than even the current USFS Forest Plans recommends for Wilderness. How many of the 69,000 acres designated for Wilderness were even used by mountain bikers?

      Also included as part of last-minute, behind the scenes, zero chance for public input or notice horse-trading by Tester and Steve Daines, the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act was amended to include the release of two Wilderness Study Areas near Otter Creek, which is nearly 500 miles away from the Rocky Mountain Front. Plus Tester and Daines snuck another provision into the RMFHA (again with no public input or process) a provision that will likely release another 14,000 acres of Wilderness Study Areas in eastern Montana near the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas development. These Wilderness Study Areas are about 350 miles from the Rocky Mountain Front.

      Also, part of that Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act ‘grand bargain’ was giving Great Northern Properties 112 million tons of coal adjacent to the Signal Peak mine. For reference, 112 million tons of coal is approximately 3 years worth of coal production by every single coal mine in Montana, one of America’s top producing coal states. According to the Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC), all that additional coalgiven away by Senator Tester and Senator Daines with zero public input or notice during secret “horse-trading” meetings in Washington DC would result in an extra 224 million tons of carbon pollution.

      More information about all that ‘horse-trading’ during all the riders attached to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act can be found here.

      Some of us in the “environmental community” tend to look at legislation more holistically, instead of just picking and choosing the parts we like based on our personal recreational pursuits.

      P.S. More information about some of the “collaboration” on taking place in the Bozeman area dealing with federal public lands (that belong equally to all Americans) can be found in this piece written in 2013. While the “Gallatin Community Collaborative” eventually imploded, a few conservation groups and the mountain bikers basically established the “Gallatin Valley Partnership” out of it.

      • As far as the Blackfoot Clearwater, I think most people would take 80,000 new acres of wilderness in exchange for a couple of primitive mountain bike trails on 5,000 acres. Now Fernie, or Kicking Horse, or Whistler are mountain bike “playgrounds” in prime grizzly habitat. I don’t think low volume backcountry trails count.

        Was the crappy additions to the Rocky Mountain Front Bill? Of course. Last time I checked we had a repubican dominated congressional delegation that needed some of their interests acknowledged. Passing legislation means compromise. The Wilderness Act grandfathered in grazing, mineral rights, and motor boats in the Boundary Waters. The Montana Wilderness Act of 1980 (?) that Reagan pocket vetoed bought off republicans with money for the Contras in Nicaragua.

        • Hi Dr. Pysher,

          As you know, Wilderness and mountain bikes are just one part of the Tester’s Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act.

          Here’s a detailed analysis of the bill from the last session of Congress (not reintroduced in 116th Congress) which includes recommendations to improve the bill. The review was commissioned by the Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force, which includes individuals as well as groups such as WildWest Institute, Western Watersheds Project, Wilderness Watch, Friends of the Bitterroot, Friends of the Clearwater, Friends of the Rattlesnake and the Montana Chapter of the Sierra Club.

          Yep, I get that “passing legislation means compromise.” However, releasing America’s Wilderness Study Areas for development, or giving away 120 million tons of coal, with zero public notice and zero public input isn’t really what most America’s think of when they think of “compromise.”

  6. One of the authors of the oped also sent me this article, which I had honestly forgotten about. It’s from the now-defunct Missoula Independent (which was bought up and then quickly shut down by the Missoulian, and Lee Enterprises immediately turned off the entire Missoula Independent article archive, which is sort of like a good old fashion book-burning, if you ask me).

    Anyway….here’s a link to the article, which was titled “Biking Bad: Freeriders push the limit, with the law in pursuit.”

    SNIP: “Advancements in suspension technology have allowed for bikes specifically tailored to more “technical” terrain: steep slopes, jumps, rock drops and log ramps. But Missoula’s legal trail system doesn’t have much of that. The void is filled by an outlaw culture of freeriders bent on meeting their own demands, even if it means breaking the law.”

  7. Capital “W” Wilderness and the Wilderness Act was composed by Howard Zahniser of The Wilderness Society prior to the corporate capture of the TWS brand — but now reduced to a shameless greenwashing frontgroup for the corporate state strategy of “collaboration.”

    The Act was legislatively defined and institutionalized by We the People back in the mid-1960s. The purpose, meaning, and legal definition of Wilderness is now being assaulted like never before under the pretense of “collaboration” to be reduced to a bargaining chip, commodified for political horse trading, and used as a Trojan horse to further the goals and purposes of free marketeers.

    That we (in far greater numbers than ever, over a half century hence) seek these “Big W” natural landscapes of public ownership as a preference if not a necessity as a means for psycho-spiritual survival is without question.

    The real question is, at what point will the collaborationists be fully outed in the mainstream news media for their duplicity and transparent self interests?

    According to Wiki:
    “The Wilderness Act was reinterpreted by the (Ronald Reagan) Administration in 1986 to ban bicycles from Wilderness areas, which led to the current vocal opposition from mountain bikers to the opening of new Wilderness areas.”

    Thanks for enduring these shameless collaborationists Matthew.

    • Then again, “the People” truly believe the lies told to them by the biggest eco-groups in the world, like the Sierra Club claiming that Trump would clearcut the Giant Sequoia National Monument, despite the substantial existing protections, already in place, throughout the Sierra Nevada National Forests. They also often describe the Lake Tahoe Basin as being “pristine”, despite portions of it being clearcut, in the distant past.

      More Big W means more of “Whatever Happens”, including deadly and destructive human-caused firestorms.

  8. David, are you saying that management of Wilderness- originating in a bill passed by the ultimate horse traders, the US Congress is now “commodified for political horsetrading”. Is there some process by which the Act, in and of itself a political compromise, become sanctified and not open to further discussion and compromise (over the next 50 years)?

    I’m picturing some baptism-like ceremony for statutes…

    And if some people prefer Wilderness for psycho-spiritual survival, I would prefer to remove political parties for psycho-spiritual survival, as I believe that their existence promotes hatred and intolerance. Yet my preference does not compel action on anyone’s part.

  9. I think you know what I’m saying Sharon. That what I say differs from your worldview, in all likelihood, precludes any point of pursuing prospects for meaningful dialog.


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