Exploring the region’s history with conservation.


Conservation work in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has a storied past dating back to the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, and closely followed by the ecological disaster known as the Dust Bowl in the 1930s which brought about huge dust storms that blotted out the sun, swallowed the countryside and destroyed valuable farmland. That, coupled with the expansion of the West, fueled concerns over protecting the very reason the West is so special—its wildlands.

In the mid 1930s, the Soil Conservation Services was established after Congress declared soil and water conservation a national policy and priority. Because about three-fourths of the land in the U.S. is privately owned, Congress realized that only active support from landowners would guarantee the success of conservation on private land. Thus, the idea for soil and water conservation districts was born. President Roosevelt wrote letters to the governors of each state encouraging them to implement and support conservation districts. The Gallatin Valley Soil and Water Conservation District was formed on June 8, 1949, continuing the long history of conservation— and strong partnerships that makes this conservation work possible—in this region of Montana.

Today, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, including Gallatin Valley, is home to hundreds of nonprofits committed to the protection of open land and wild spaces.

The spirit of conservation is ever-present, and Wildlands Festival in Big Sky, Montana, amplifies nonprofits’ missions and work through partnership as beneficiaries and a shared love for live music. Wildlands Festival charities benefit from more than six different fundraising activities each year, all of which also raise awareness of their conservation missions through ticket and sponsor sales, volunteer donations, merchandise sales, silent auction items and the Wildlands Festival charity dinner. Last year’s total funds raised surpassed $500,000.

This year’s Wildlands Festival beneficiaries are Wild Montana, Gallatin Valley Land Trust and Greater Yellowstone Coalition.


Wild Montana

Since 1958, Wild Montana has been a beacon of hope for open spaces, rallying people around a shared love of wild public lands and waters. Their work, which includes building trust with community members, fostering collaboration and forging agreements, has not only protected wild lands and enhanced public land access but also created economic opportunities for gateway communities across the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. It’s a powerful testament to the positive change that when people work together and the direct impact that work has on our local communities.

» Spotlight Projects

Wild Montana’s membership was instrumental in creating and passing the 1964 Wilderness Act. Since then, they have been involved in efforts to designate all 16 of Montana’s Wilderness areas. As the social and political landscapes of both Montana and the nation continue to grow and shift over time, Wild Montana’s work has evolved to address new threats and find new opportunities to conserve the state’s wild public lands and waters. They have expanded their efforts to include state policy work to ensure Montana’s conservation programs are adequately funded, advance policy that benefits state public lands and sustain and create new opportunities for access to public lands.

As a Lower Yellowstone River Coalition member, Wild Montana has successfully garnered support from community leaders, businesses and elected officials to create 328 acres of new public land along the lower Yellowstone River. Near Forsyth, the Wildcat Wildlife Management Area will open 2.2 miles of riverfront for hiking, hunting, fishing, boating and wildlife watching.

Additionally, Wild Montana is the driving force behind the biannual Rally for Public Lands in Helena. Held when the state legislature is in session, the rallies have drawn thousands of Montanans from across the state. Conceived initially to combat the transfer and sale of public lands, the rallies have grown into a show of support for policy that prioritizes protecting public lands, wildlife and a clean and healthy environment.

A landscape shot shows Peets Final Piece connected to the south end of Peets Hill. PHOTO BY LOUISE JOHNS

Gallatin Valley Land Trust

For more than 30 years, Gallatin Valley Land Trust has been a nonprofit, grassroots conservation organization standing on the shoulders of its volunteers, partners and supporters who love southwest Montana.

Since 1990, GVLT has been working to connect people, communities and open lands through conservation in Gallatin, Park and Madison counties. They have conserved working farms and ranches, saved critical wildlife habitat and protected healthy rivers. They have also built nearly 100 miles of trails with their partners in the Gallatin Valley, working hard to preserve what makes Montana so special.

GVLT has partnered with landowners to forever conserve more than 65,000 acres of what they consider the most highly productive, scenic and wildlife-rich lands in southwest Montana. These lands, teeming with diverse flora and fauna, are a testament to GVLT’s commitment to preserving our region’s natural beauty and character.

» Spotlight Projects

One of GVLT’s first projects was working with the City of Bozeman to purchase land from the Burke family to protect open space and develop trails on an iconic plateau within city limits known as Peets Hill. Much like Bozeman’s Central Park, Peets Hill is where families take their children to sled, watch sunsets and walk their dogs; and many others take visiting family or friends to overlook the city and the surrounding vistas. Over the last 30 years, GVLT has continued to enhance and expand this park. Most recently, with the generous support of nearly 700 donors, they purchased what they call Peets’ Final Piece, a 12-acre extension along the southern end of the park. Their efforts saved this piece from development and today the entire parcel is under the ownership of the City of Bozeman.

Mike Clark, GYC, (left) signs documents to halt the new World Mine with support from Bill Clinton.
GYC staff at an event celebrating the stopping of the Yellowstone Boundary Gold Mine. PHOTO COURTESY OF GREATER YELLOWSTONE COALITION/EMMY REED

Greater Yellowstone Coalition

Since 1983, Greater Yellowstone Coalition has not just championed the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem but also carved out a unique role as its voice. GYC, in collaboration with people and communities, is dedicated to protecting the 22-million-acre Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem through water, land and wildlife conservation campaigns and projects.

With headquarters in Bozeman and offices in Idaho, Wyoming, and the Wind River Indian Reservation, the company’s team of passionate conservationists, seasoned policy analysts and esteemed biologists work on issues like grizzly bear and bison management, wildlife highway crossings, climate resilience, protecting public lands and supporting Indigenous-led conservation priorities.

» Spotlight Projects

“Stopping the proposed New World Gold Mine near Cooke City in the mid-1990s helped put GYC on the map and propel the organization toward many other important conservation wins,” said Scott Christensen, executive director of GYC. “Some of those include playing a lead role in supporting the reintroduction of gray wolves and the remarkable comeback of grizzlies, opening up habitat for bison west and north of Yellowstone, working with Native American tribes and the park to restore bison to tribal lands across North America, passing bills in Congress to protect the Snake River, Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone, and the East Rosebud Creek, and just last year buying out a proposed gold mine that was slated to be developed right on the boundary of Yellowstone near Gardiner.”

March 1, 1872
Yellowstone National Park was established.
December 21, 1887
The Boone and Crockett Club was formed by Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell.
May 11, 1910
Glacier National Park was established as America’s 10th national park.
March 28, 1958
Wild Montana was established by Tim Lynch in Helena, Montana.
September 3, 1964
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, designating 1.5 million acres of wilderness in Montana including the Anaconda Pintler, Bob Marshall, Cabinet Mountains, Gates of the Mountains, and Selway- Bitterroot, and the Land and Water Conservation Bill.
American Rivers was established at a meeting in Denver, Colorado.
Sen. Lee Metcalf leads the effort to pass the Montana Wilderness Study Area Act, incorporating 1 million acres into nine wilderness study areas.
Congress designated the North, Middle, and South forks of the Flathead River and three sections of the Upper Missouri River as Wild and Scenic Rivers.
Greater Yellowstone Coalition was established, focusing on land around Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park, including Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
Gallatin Valley Land Trust is established in Bozeman, Montana.
Wild Montana sues the federal government after it grants Solenex LLC a permit to drill on an illegally issued lease in the Badger-Two Medicine, a wild area outside Glacier National Park sacred to the Niitsitapi (Blackfeet).
Big Sky Community Organization is formed in Big Sky, Montana.
The Blue Water Task Force was established at MSU to monitor Upper Gallatin water quality.
The Blue Water Task Force rebrands as the Gallatin River Task Force.
August 26, 2016
The National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday in Gardiner, Montana.
Sen. Jon Tester reintroduces the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act, a law that would protect 384 miles of Montana rivers, including the Gallatin, Madison and Smith rivers, as well as waterways in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest.

Prior Beneficiaries

Wildlands Festival has a proud history connecting with local conservation groups. Let’s revisit some projects that have been made possible from generous donors and support over the years.

A Paradise Valley conservation easement is a fan favorite among local elk herds. PHOTO BY BLAIR SPEED

Big Sky Community Organization

“The Big Sky Community Organization (BSCO) is very appreciative and honored to be a beneficiary of the Wildlands Festival,” said Whitney Montgomery, chief executive officer of BSCO. “BSCO is committed to a healthy, connected and thriving community, and the longstanding partnership with Outlaw Partners plays an important role in meeting this vision in serving Big Sky. Combining great music with protecting our natural environment and promoting outdoor recreation is a fabulous way to bring passions together for the benefit of all.”

  • In 2018, BSCO was able to acquire the space for Len Hill Park and preserve it as a hub for community events and arts.
  • In 2020, they opened the BASE community center, raising more than $20 million to complete the project, from purchasing 3.3 acres of parkland, building and improving the ice rink, and creating the 27,000 square foot community center. The community center features a climbing and bouldering wall, a full gymnasium, a fully equipped fitness center, arts and culture education wing, meeting and classroom space, children’s play area and open gathering spaces.
  • Planning for multi-use fields at the Big Sky Community Park for school, clubs and adult recreation teams including the local baseball team.
  • As a part of the Big Sky Trails Master Plan, BSCO designed the pedestrian tunnel that is being constructed under the key intersection of Lone Mountain Trail and Little Coyote Road.
  • This year, they unveiled ALL OUT for Parks & Trails, a three-year plan to expand and renovate parks and trails and support Big Sky’s recreational and athletic needs.

The funds from the 2022 Wildlands Festival were used to partially fund a new building that was erected in the Big Sky Community Park. The first floor of the building is a maintenance area used to store and repair equipment. The second floor is employee housing for up to six staff members.

Gallatin Valley Land Trust

“We were honored to be selected as an early beneficiary of the Wildlands Festival,” said Chet Work, executive director at Gallatin Valley Land Trust. “This highly-anticipated annual event has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to conservation from its inception, and we at Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT) are grateful for the financial support that has enabled us to accelerate the pace of our work to build trails and protect critical wildlife habitat, big sky views, and working farms and ranches.”

  • Conservation of some of the most highly productive, scenic, and wildlife-rich lands in southwest Montana.
  • Expansion and enhancement of the Main Street to the Mountains trail system in Bozeman, totaling nearly 100 miles.

Gallatin River Task Force

  • Kristin Gardner, chief executive and science officer at GRTF, joined several partner organizations this past spring in Washington, D.C. to advocate for the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act.The Big Sky Water Conservation Program saved 39,119.20 gallons of water.
  • Continuous streamflow measuring on the Gallatin River and four tributaries.
  • Advancing 13 restoration projects throughout the Gallatin watershed.
  • Collecting water quality data at 11 sites in July, August, September and October, to help monitor the health of the Gallatin River.

American Rivers

  • Continued support of dam removal projects across the U.S.
  • Removal of four lower Snake River dams in southeast Washington which will restore salmon and steelhead to 5,500 miles of rivers, mainly in central Idaho.
  • Promoted the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act and similar legislation in the West.
  • Took two trips to DC to lobby on behalf of the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act.
  • Conducted paid advertising campaigns in Montana regarding Montana Headwaters Legacy Act.

Learn more about Wildlands beneficiaries at wildlandsfestival.com/charity

Taylor Owens is a writer who spends her days running in the sun, playing in the snow, or on the hunt for the best breakfast across the West. She is based in Bozeman and is the content marketing lead at Outlaw Partners.