Billings Gazette Opinion – July 29, 2018
Casey Page, Gazette Staff
Wild and Scenic Victory for Montana
East Rosebud Creek should stay the way it is – a ribbon of clear water tumbling from the top of the Beartooth Mountains down a breathtaking valley of pine trees, deer, elk, moose and bears.
That plea for East Rosebud protection was first printed in a Gazette opinion four years ago, shortly after the first legislation was introduced to designate East Rosebud Creek as a Wild and Scenic River from its high country start near Fossil Lake down to East Rosebud Lake and from the point the creek leaves the lake to the boundary of Custer National Forest.
With overwhelming support from East Rosebud area residents and other Carbon County landowners, Montana efforts to protect this stream on public land are just one step away from success: A bill to designate the East Rosebud Creek Wild and Scenic was on its way to President Trump after passing the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. The legislation is strongly supported by Montana’s entire delegation.
An identical bill sponsored by Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines passed the Senate in December. Rep. Greg Gianforte introduced a bill in the House this spring and it passed the House earlier this month. But the same bill has to pass both chambers before it can go to the president to be signed into law. On Wednesday, word came from congressional offices that Senate GOP leadership had “hotlined” Gianforte’s bill for a vote.
Leslie Ziegler, president of Friends of East Rosebud, was at her East Rosebud Lake cabin when she heard that final passage was imminent. Wednesday was another perfectly gorgeous day, 76 and sunny with more snow left in the Beartooths than usual for late July, but the creek level was finally dropping after carrying snow melt downstream. Indian paintbrush and cornflowers were in bloom on the green landscape.
Ziegler has been an East Rosebud resident since 1980. She and her neighbors were spurred to action in December 2009 when they learned of a plan to dam the creek. They formed Friends of the East Rosebud, told their story in area newspapers and started a petition drive to express support for keeping the creek free flowing. Eventually, the hydro dam project was abandoned, but the potential for future development remained.
Ziegler and other friends made seven trips to Washington, D.C., in the past five years to ask Montana members of Congress to designate the creek under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. They made their case in three congressional sessions.
“We appreciate the Montana delegation,” Ziegler told The Gazette. “We are a group of people who live here and love the East Rosebud.”
Visitors who venture into the Custer National Forest to hike, hunt and fish along the creek also spend money at local businesses.
The Wild and Scenic designation won’t change how the public land is managed. Because the creek has long been eligible for this designation, it was managed as such. Basically, the designation preserves the status quo permanently.
The designation applies only to public land along the creek; not to East Rosebud Lake where private landowners have cabins.
More than 100 newspaper and magazine articles were published about protecting the creek, Friends of the East Rosebud said in a news release last week.
“The Montana press helped a lot to get this done,” said Judy Haynes, a friends member quoted in the news release.
President Trump will be doing the right thing by signing H.R. 4645, the East Rosebud Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
The bill protects the creek “for future generations to come,” said Daines who hiked it with his family and dogs earlier this summer.
“Getting this bill to the president’s desk was a bipartisan effort and it was led by the folks on the ground who access this river year-round,” Tester said. “Because of their hard work, a Montana stream will be designated as Wild and Scenic for the first time in a generation.”
“I look forward to President Trump signing this bill into law and to getting back to East Rosebud soon,” Gianforte said in a Wednesday evening press release.
Less than one half of 1 percent of Montana’s 170,000 miles of river is designated Wild and Scenic to protect cultural and recreational values. When Trump signs this Montana bill, he will be making the first such designation in 40 years.
It’s great to see Montana’s entire delegation working together for the good of Montanans. The East Rosebud legislation heading for Trump’s desk is a shining example of how Congress should work all the time.
The original piece can be viewed online at the Billings Gazette HERE.