On Tuesday, April 13, The Burton K. Wheeler Center for Public Policy presented “The Future of Hyalite.” The Zoom meeting began with an introduction by professor Eric Austin, Ph.D., followed by professor Mark Fiege, Ph.D., who provided a short lecture on the history of the U.S. Forest Service and environmentalism in the American West. Shortly after, the audience was introduced to the panel of esteemed guests. In attendance were Jono McKinney, CEO of the Montana Conservation Corp, Peter Bennet, Vice President of Friends of Hyalite (FOH) and Virginia Kelly, team leader for the Custer-Gallatin forest plan revision.
The majority of the lecture focused on the new forest plan revision, which describes the rules and regulations of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest, extending from Montana into North Dakota. Covering 3 million acres, the Custer-Gallatin includes Bridger Bowl and Hyalite Canyon. A forest plan revision also cartographically defines areas of recreation, protection and resource usage. After Kelly defined and explained the new plan, Bennet and McKinney described how their non-governmental organizations assist the forest service in the maintenance of Custer-Gallatin lands. Though Kelly mentioned that 18 to 19 Native tribes were consulted during the plan’s revisions, the presence of Native voices in the process of the plan’s revisions was not prominent. Neither Kelly, Bennet or McKinney recognized Indigenous practices of forest management that could be beneficial to the management of the Custer-Gallatin area, such as more frequent controlled burning. When lecturing, each presenter missed out on a valuable opportunity to acknowledge the land they manage, and who has historically managed the land before Euro-American contact. Nonetheless, each of the lecturers expressed the goal at their conservation efforts and revisions to the forest plan as ecological, economic and demographic sustainability.
Hyalite Canyon is one of the most popular outdoor recreation areas in all of western Montana. Using a motion activated vehicle counter, FOH noticed an increase from 150,000 vehicles entering Hyalite Canyon in 2019, to 190,000 in 2020; likely a result of COVID-19 and increased enviro-tourism. The increasing number of visitors presents challenges when groups like FOH are tasked with protecting the Hyalite Reservoir, which provides 80% of freshwater to the city of Bozeman. Other problems that present themselves when addressing the future of Hyalite are the ever-present transient camps that are increasing in number due to growing population numbers in Bozeman, as well as a consistent lack of affordable housing. Although the specifics have not been released, the new forest plan will attempt to address these problems, among others such as climate change.