Caroline Byrd

Caroline Byrd will leave the Greater Yellowstone Coalition at the end of February.

The leader of one of the region’s most prominent conservation groups is stepping down.

Caroline Byrd, executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, will leave the organization after seven years on the job. The group announced her departure Tuesday.

Her tenure with the Bozeman-based group has included work on grizzly bear coexistence, pushes for river protections and a high-profile fight against gold mining proposals near Yellowstone National Park. It also coincided with significant population growth throughout the region, especially in Bozeman.

Byrd said in an interview that it just seemed like the right time for her to move on.

“Throughout the seven years, I look back, and we’ve done a lot and ... I’m so tremendously proud of it,” Byrd said.

Byrd’s last day will be Feb. 29. GYC deputy director Scott Christensen will be the interim executive director until a permanent replacement is named.

Founded in 1983, the Bozeman-based Greater Yellowstone Coalition focuses on conservation in the entire Yellowstone ecosystem, not just the two national parks it contains. The organization has offices on all sides of the ecosystem, including in Red Lodge, Driggs, Idaho, and Jackson, Lander and Cody, Wyoming. In fiscal year 2018, it had a little more than $5 million in revenue, according to its financial documents.

In a news release announcing Byrd’s departure, the organization extolled her leadership, saying she grew the organization’s budget, added staff and led campaigns that helped preserve the region.

Pete Coppolillo, GYC’s board chair, said in the release that Byrd “transformed the organization into a powerhouse that has seen conservation win after conservation win.”

Byrd took over as executive director in 2013 after 13 years with The Nature Conservancy in Missoula. She became the fifth executive director for GYC and the first woman to hold the job.

She said Tuesday that there are a number of things she was proud to oversee in her time. Among them was work to improve human-grizzly bear relations, like the installation of bear boxes at campgrounds and working on predator-livestock conflicts.

Under her leadership, the group stood apart from other grizzly advocates after Endangered Species Act protections were removed for the bears in 2017, choosing not to join the lawsuit that ultimately resulted in the protections being restored in 2018. It was a change from the 2007 delisting of the bears, when the Greater Yellowstone Coalition was one of the groups that sued to block the move.

Byrd wrote in a Chronicle guest column in July 2017 that the bears had made a remarkable recovery and that her group would work hard to hold state wildlife managers accountable if the bears remained delisted. She also wrote that the group would oppose any grizzly hunts.

GYC was a major player in the fight against mining in the mountains east of the Paradise Valley, north of Yellowstone National Park. It began in 2015 when exploratory gold mining plans for the area first surfaced and culminated last year with the passage of the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act, which barred new mining claims on 30,000 acres of public land near where the companies wanted to drill.

Michelle Uberuaga, executive director of the Park County Environmental Council, said GYC dove in and became a tremendous help, bringing more resources and technical expertise to the campaign. She added that the group was a major help in getting the mining claim ban passed in Congress.

She remembers meeting Byrd for the first time at a gathering about the mines.

“I was excited and inspired to see a strong leader who wasn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves,” Uberuaga said.

Byrd said that push was successful because of the collaboration with locals, including the environmental council and the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition. She added that there are a number of collaborations around the region that “are really, really showing the success that comes with long-term collaboration.”

She isn’t sure what she’ll do next, but said it will likely still be in conservation. While there is still work to do, she said, she’s seen a lot of advancements in the Yellowstone ecosystem over the years, due in part to people grasping the importance of protecting this region.

“They understand that Greater Yellowstone really is unique on the planet, that we are one of the last intact ecosystems,” Byrd said. “It doesn’t get wilder than here.”

An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Michelle Uberuaga. 

Michael Wright can be reached at mwright@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2638.

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.