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A Monumental Moment

Advocates see Madison-Gallatin National Wildlife Monument as path toward permanent environmental protections for Greater Yellowstone

Headwaters basins in the Northern Gallatin Range provide critical habitat for elk, mountain goat and bear, and its cold, clean water feeds trout-rich streams.
Headwaters basins in the Northern Gallatin Range provide critical habitat for elk, mountain goat and bear, and its cold, clean water feeds trout-rich streams.
Story and photos by David Tucker

For decades, conservationists have fought to protect the wildlands surrounding Yellowstone National Park. There have been great successes, such as the Wilderness Areas that share borders with Yellowstone, but permanent protections for large portions of the Madison and Gallatin ranges have been harder to secure.

Now, Bold Visions Conservation executive director Stephen Capra has proposed the Madison-Gallatin National Wildlife Monument, an unconventional idea that looks to succeed where other efforts have stalled.

“The monument idea is based around wildlife,” Capra said at an April 8 public presentation in Bozeman. “These are the most critical wildlife corridors in America, and [they’re] continuing to be degraded by the National Forest Service. There’s not going to be much to stop them unless we can designate this area a monument.”

According to Capra, who previously worked to secure two national monuments in New Mexico, the region’s robust wildlife populations are a key differentiator that could be leveraged to create the nation’s first terrestrial wildlife-focused national monument (marine monuments exist in Hawaii). The monument would be comprised of two units: the Madison-Gallatin Unit to the northwest of Yellowstone, and the Henry’s Lake-Island Park Unit adjacent to the park’s southwest corner. Taken together, the units would comprise up to 1.6 million acres.
Map by Kurt Menke
Map by Kurt Menke
“If we don’t protect this area, it’ll be one of the most important areas … in the Lower 48 to be lost,” Capra said, “and it will be lost if the Forest Service continues to manage it the way they are,” alluding to logging and road construction. “They basically clearcut the area on the Idaho side of the border. You can see the clearcuts from space.”

Currently, the Custer Gallatin National Forest is being sued to stop logging operations near West Yellowstone which, according to the Forest Service, will have “no significant impact” to the ecosystem, although it calls for 5,551 acres of clearcutting along with other thinning and harvesting activities. Because any monument would be established on primarily Forest Service land, the agency would likely take over management once the entity was established. If Capra gets his way, they’ll be managing for wildlife instead of board feet.

Other efforts to protect these public lands have focused primarily on additional Wilderness designations, which require an act of Congress. National monuments are established by the sitting U.S. president using the authority of the Antiquities Act, a key distinction for Capra.

“I took a look at realistically what can be done in an environment like this, with a governor like we have, and the Legislature and people like [U.S. Sen.] Steve Daines,” he said. “It came to me that most logical approach is the president using the Antiquities Act and bypassing Congress and getting it done.”
The high-alpine basins of the Henry's Lake Mountains would be one of the wildlife-rich landscapes included in the proposed Madison-Gallatin National Wildlife Monument.
The high-alpine basins of the Henry's Lake Mountains would be one of the wildlife-rich landscapes included in the proposed Madison-Gallatin National Wildlife Monument.
Still, monuments aren’t created overnight. Indeed, Capra noted that no management plan for a potential monument has been drafted, and efforts in New Mexico took nine years. “Every time you make a monument, it’s a little bit like legislation,” he said. “You’re making sausage.”

With the idea now public, Capra and his team will begin what they hope will be a fruitful, community-based process. “This isn’t my decision; this is really the decision of the community. I think we’re at a point where people are ready for something big and bold to happen.”

For now, Bold Visions Conservation is seeking input from all regional stakeholders as they begin the process of forwarding the monument proposal. “We’re just trying to christen the ship here and get started with an idea that maybe can move the ball forward.”

Visit bvconservation.org/land to learn more and provide feedback.

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Mountain Journal is the only nonprofit, public-interest journalism organization of its kind dedicated to covering the wildlife and wild lands of Greater Yellowstone. We take pride in our work, yet to keep bold, independent journalism free, we need your support. Please donate here. Thank you.

David Tucker
About David Tucker

David Tucker is a freelance journalist covering conservation, recreation and the environment in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
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