Public meetings set for April 22 – May 13
By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

BOZEMAN – A new organization, the Gallatin Community Collaborative, is forming to bring together opposing user groups to find a solution for long-standing conflict over land use in the Gallatin Range.

Adjacent to Yellowstone National Park, these mountains are home to thriving wildlife populations and provide world-class recreation for the surrounding communities of Livingston, Big Sky, Gardiner, West Yellowstone and Bozeman.

Managed by the Gallatin National Forest, the 155,000-acre Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area sits in the heart of the range. Congress designated the WSA in 1977 to “preserve its existing wilderness character” until a decision about long-term management and protection could be made. It’s been the center point of conflicting user groups ever since.

Approximately 400 people attended a public meeting hosted by the Forest Service at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds in February 2012. The tone of the meeting, said facilitator Dan Clark, showed “interest in moving forward with [exploring more formal] collaboration.”

So Clark, Director of the Montana State University Local Government Center, established an Exploratory Committee for the Gallatin Community Collaborative, representing diverse interests including motorized and non-motorized recreation, outfitters, landowners, conservation, education and agency managers.

“It seemed like there weren’t a lot of other alternatives,” Clark said, referring to the contentious 2006 Gallatin National Forest Travel Plan and the ensuing litigation by environmental groups – none of which resolved the situation. “We’ve been dealing with this for 30 years. Having another Forest Plan isn’t going to solve the problem.”

With the Gallatin National Forest now considering revisions to its management plan, and no litigation pending, the Exploratory Committee laid what it hopes to be groundwork for future management.

“[It’s] a time for communities to sit down and say, ‘how do we approach this differently?’” Clark said.

The committee’s discussions over the past year focused on building guidelines and operating protocols for a collaborative process.

“It’s been rewarding working with people that would have been on [the] opposite side during the litigation,” said Tom Owen, a committee member and owner of Gallatin Alpine Sports in Big Sky. “It’s truly been… a collaboration of us working together.”

With that in place, the committee plans to hand off the reins to the yet-to-be formed Gallatin Community Collaborative.

“It’s not something that’s been tried here before, but after years of frustration, we think people might be willing to try something different,” said Jeremy Fatouros, committee member and owner of Lost Creek Outfitters.

The committee’s vision is that the process will be fair, transparent, inclusive, fact-based and civil, and that the collaborative group will work toward a “broad, adaptive and durable” resolution that it will ultimately present to the Gallatin National Forest and federal elected officials. This process is anticipated to take two years.

The Exploratory Committee has scheduled six informational sessions April 22 – May 13, in Big Sky, Bozeman, Livingston and Emigrant. These will be used to explain the history of the WSA and the group’s work so far, and also to further gather information on community interests and help define the management future of the landscape.

The sessions are free and open to the public, but a reservation is required to ensure adequate space. All agendas and minutes will be available on the Gallatin Collaborative website, which is now under construction.

Going forward, the group is looking for citizens to serve on subcommittees and in leadership roles, attend meetings, and stay informed by following the work online.

An organizing meeting will likely happen before the end of June to form the collaborative group, Clark said, but the timeline depends on hiring a new facilitator to take over the process.

“It won’t be easy,” Owen said. “There are going to be a lot of emotions, passion. It’s going to be a long process.” But while the Forest Service and congressional delegates will set the policies, the decision on how to manage the land is currently in the hands of the surrounding communities, he said.

And there is plenty of interest: When the Exploratory Committee put out its press release on April 5, its website received 500 hits within the first couple hours.

In the long run, according to the release, this process could “help reinvent the way this community resolves questions about management and protection of its shared public lands, helping ensure these resources are managed well and sustainably for years to come.”

Gallatin Collaborative informational sessions
All workshops will be from 6-8 p.m. For more information on specific location or to register for one of the informational sessions, which is required to attend, visit gallatincollaborative.org or call (406) 587-6701.

April 22 – Big Sky

April 30 – Bozeman

May 2 – Bozeman

May 6 – Livingston

May 7 – Livingston

May 13 – Emigrant