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Imagine it’s the year 2065. The Gallatin Valley has a population of 250,000 people. There’s an active, thriving recreational spirit here, and mountain bikers converge from all over the country to ride Porcupine and Buffalo Horn Creeks, two iconic lower-elevation valleys of the Gallatin Range. It’s 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning in late July and the large, paved parking lots at both trailheads are filled with Outbacks, BMWs, Audis, SUVs and cars of all sorts. Mountain bikes adorn them all, and youthful crowds of vibrant riders chat, excited and abuzz after their morning espressos and pastries at the many gourmet cafes just down the road at Big Sky, itself now home to 45,000 human denizens of the land.

Soon, the bright-eyed, spirited mountain bikers will test their mettle riding to the headwalls, in and out of side canyons, and over the top of the ridge between the valleys. Others will ride the latest, sleekest full suspension E-bikes to ease their way over the rough terrain. Now and again, a stray elk might be seen and raved about. And there’s even the ghost of the grizzly bear to be marveled at, having roamed abundant and free here a few decades ago. Five years back, a couple of folks claimed to have seen one of the bruins, browsing on a ridgetop meadow, but it was probably just a wishful fancy that the young are prone to.

In 2020, there was still a viable grizzly population here and, on a given day, one would have seen hundreds of elk in these valleys. When the valleys were still part of the Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area (HPBH WSA) and were thereby allowed to be traveled by humans only at the impacts occurring in 1976, when the area was designated a WSA. There had been talk of making the entire WSA a designated wilderness and including all roadless lands of the Gallatins in that legislation.

People even talked of maintaining the elk herds in their enormous numbers. They talked about making highway crossings for the grizzly bear, so that the Yellowstone grizzly population of then 700 could maintain its genetic viability by connecting to grizzly bear populations north of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as they passed through the Porcupine and Buffalo Horn valleys. But it’s 2065 now, and those daydreams are of a bygone era.

But what if? After all, it is actually still 2020. We do have the chance to chart a different future. What if our ideals were to go in a different direction than the on-the-go and on-the-rise majority and instead were to go toward one shared by some of today’s young and old alike? Imagine that we do set aside the entire WSA as wilderness and keep out mechanized travel. What even if we were to do that with the entirety of roadless lands left in the still wild Gallatins?

Imagine that we do not flood the area with our adrenaline but succeed at keeping it wild, even as we grow in human numbers. Can we see ourselves butted up against a Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and managing ourselves in a way that maintains those lands’ great biological diversity and original wildlife intactness?

Can we keep our fitness balanced, as a fitness of the body and the soul, a soul needy of wildlands, and a body requiring an earth filled with intact, large wild spaces and the health those spaces give to the planet and its ability to sustain human life? Do we have the forethought and self-restraint to set aside a Gallatin Mountains Wilderness and preserve the earthly and spiritual riches still clinging to existence just outside our ever-increasing doors?

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Joseph Scalia III, is president of the Gallatin Yellowstone Wilderness Alliance and a former president of Montana Wilderness Association.