Guest post by: Mariah Leuschen-Lonergan
Bozeman and much of southcentral and southeastern Montana are interspersed with amazing National Forest System lands, home to the Custer Gallatin National Forest. A forest of close to 3.1 million acres spanning from Bozeman and West Yellowstone on the westernmost stretches to the vast expanses of southeastern Montana and far northwestern South Dakota. Truly the Big Sky state.
About the Forest
This landscape is known as one of the most ecologically and geographically diverse Forests in the Northern Region. From buttes, bluffs, and badlands that characterize much of the southeastern stretches to the high alpine lakes, rugged terrain, and mountain tops that make-up a vital component of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem; one of the most intact ecosystems in the lower 48. The Custer Gallatin is home to 41 of the state's highest mountaintops, including Granite Peak, Montana's tallest at 12,799 feet.
Its richness and diversity is home to 85 mammal species, more than 260 bird species, along with numerous reptiles and amphibians. Some nationally iconic species also roam the landscape. The Custer Gallatin is the only national forest occupied with wild bison. They come out of Yellowstone National Park for a portion of the year, and the recovery of the Grizzly Bear is a noted success as part of the Custer Gallatin's active partnership with several agencies within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
The Forest is a gateway to the nation's first national park, Yellowstone National Park, with entrances in West Yellowstone, MT, Gardiner, MT and Cooke City, MT (often coming from Red Lodge, MT over the Beartooth Highway, a National Scenic Byway). It's seven ranger districts offer any adventurous spirit a trip of a lifetime, with 3,600 miles of trails and a great diversity of prospects to be had. The Forest also encompasses over 1 million acres in Wilderness, with the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness and the Lee Metcalf Wilderness areas.
The Forest Plan Revision
Launching in January 2016, the Forest is on a critical mission to revise its land-use management plans, or the overarching direction and vision for the Forest for the next decade or more. This comprehensive guiding document was last visited in '86 and '87, respectively, when the Custer and the Gallatin National Forests were two separate Forests. In August of 2014, the Forests officially consolidated. In Spring 2020, the Forest anticipates it will release a final revised Forest Plan and draft decision for one unified Forest, that guides and directs goals for Forest managers for the coming years. The final decision is expected late in 2020.
This Forest Plan Revision process is the square focus of many conversations across the Forest today. The Forest received thousands of comments and has had excellent public participation throughout the process from evening public meetings and webinars to youth presentations and field trips to commenting on documents and day-long collaborative type meetings. Overall, the Forest Plan aims to balance multiple uses, including sustainable recreation with restoration and the long-term maintenance needs of National Forest ecosystems. The forest plan process also considers the goals, uses, and resources of the lands and communities surrounding the Forest, called an "all lands approach" that looks at how the Forest fits into the greater landscape; one that more than 350,000 people call home and millions come to visit annually.
To stay abreast of this process and see when the Final plan hits the streets, opt-in for email updates by visiting www.fs.usda.gov/custergallatin and clicking on Forest Plan Revision, then following directions submitting your email address. While the official commenting opportunities have passed, one can also review past documents or learn more about the project online, as well.
And, probably one of the best ways to stay plugged into your National Forests is to go out and care for them. You can pick up another's litter left behind, participate locally, volunteer on trail projects, or plant trees through one of several non-profits available. There are many more opportunities, click here to find out more.