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Viewpoint: What are the Greater Yellowstone Coalition’s ethics worth?

A lone, large bison roams the roadside in this August 2021 photo from Yellowstone National Park. (Chris Marshall/Courthouse News)

Do you ever wonder how much your ethics are worth? Apparently, for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the price is considerably more than the “30 pieces of silver” Judas got for his sell out, but that was 2,000 years ago.

A cache of recently released documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shows the Forest Service spent at least $17,500 to contract GYC to lead a collaboration that supports the Greenhorn Project in Southwest Montana’s Gravelly Mountains. Astoundingly, this 16,000 acre logging, burning, and roadbuilding project includes Inventoried Roadless Areas in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

It’s worth noting the Greater Yellowstone Coalition advertises itself to foundations and donors as the leading conservation advocate for the lands, waters, and wildlife surrounding Yellowstone National Park. Yet conservation groups that supported more wilderness and less logging, roadbuilding, and livestock grazing were specifically excluded from participation in GYC’s “stakeholders” collaborative.

The Gravelly Landscape Collaborative website says: “We welcome new participants who share a commitment to the Gravelly landscape and are willing to accept basic ground rules for respectful, honest collaboration.” But as bluntly stated in an email from the collaborative: “The Gallatin Wildlife Association and Cottonwood Law have not demonstrated a commitment to collaboration and the give and take required for consensus, as shown in the continued lawsuits and opposition to management actions that include grazing. For this reason GWA is not eligible to be invited as a planning committee member.”

So who was allowed to attend the planning meetings besides the Forest Service? The Greater Yellowstone Coalition, of course, Madison County, billionaire “ranchers,” and The Nature Conservancy were some of the chosen few.

The collaborators say their “overarching goal is to develop ecologically appropriate, scientifically supported restoration projects that will benefit the forests, fish and wildlife populations and local communities of the Gravelly landscape.” But the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center and the Gallatin Wildlife Association were excluded because they support secure habitat for grizzly bears and wolves – and do not support livestock grazing because it has been extensively documented and “scientifically supported” that grizzly bears and wolves that prey on the private, for-profit livestock grazing on public lands wind up dead.

Instead, GYC’s collaborative of ranchers and the Forest Service want to slash and burn over 16,000 acres in the Sheep Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area. Ironically, this area would be designated as wilderness by the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, a bill that currently has 59 sponsors in the House of Representatives and 12 sponsors in U.S. Senate.

GYC’s collaborative also thinks native trees and shrubs are degrading this landscape and need to be burned and cut — including burning sagebrush in occupied sage grouse habitat. In reality, the goal is to grow more grass for cattle in this mountainous landscape that currently provides elk and mule deer with fawning/calving areas and crucial winter range as well as secure habitat for at least a dozen bird species identified as Montana Species of Concern.

Scientific research documents that grizzly bears flee in terror from low-level helicopter flights and may abandon their habitat, but GYC’s collaborators endorse low-level helicopter flights to drop firestarters in areas occupied by grizzly sow/cub groups – a blatant violation of the Endangered Species Act.

The collaborative gave the timber industry its slice of the national forest pie, too, including clearcutting Douglas fir stands and bulldozing in miles of new logging roads — even though the latest science finds that logged forests burn hotter and faster than unlogged forests.

The National Environmental Policy Act requires that federal agencies provide the public an opportunity for review and comment about the potential impacts of their proposed actions. But there is nothing in the Act that says only citizens who are paid by the government to support destroying habitat for native species are allowed to do the planning.

They say “everyone has their price” and apparently that’s true for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. But the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem belongs to all Americans — not just organizations that were paid by the government to support deforestation of prime grizzly bear and elk habitat.

Mike Garrity is the Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.