Managing the Gallatin National Forest

The United States Forest Service is currently deciding who can use the Gallatin National Forest, whether you travel with pedals, stirrups, or a clutch.

In 1977, a popular trail system east of the Gallatin River from Yellowstone National Park to Bozeman, known as the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo-Horn (HPBH), was designated a Wilderness Study Area by the late Senator Lee Metcalf to “maintain [its] presently existing wilderness character and potential for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System.” Since this area has become heavily used in recent years, the USFS is making plans for trail management.

“Under most of the alternatives, motor biking will be limited,” says Steve Christiansen of the USFS. Mountain biking will likely be banned on a downhill section of the “M” trail in Bozeman. Another proposal restricts all trail users in spring except hikers. While no area has received Wilderness designation since 1983, if the HPBH is deemed Wilderness, all trail use would be limited to hikers and equestrians. Further study is required to make a final decision that will, ultimately, resolve user conflict and environmental threats.

“It’s not about what trail we can hike or bike tomorrow,” says Alex Phillips, Montana Wilderness Association field organizer in Bozeman. “It’s about what kind of forest we’re going to leave the next generation.”

“It’s everyone’s forest,” says Kimberly Schlenker, wilderness and recreation program manager for the Gallatin National Forest. Therefore, public opinion will dictate its fate. Christiansen agrees: “Everyone has a voice.”

A final comment period will occur September when the USFS releases a Draft Environmental Impact Statement. “If you don’t comment this fall, you will not have another opportunity,” Christiansen says. While he expects opposition, positive feedback is helpful and specific recommendations are

Various groups may disagree with Forest Service plans, but one fact remains inevitable—compromise. “It is unlikely that everyone will be happy,” Christiansen says.