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Environmental groups want more “wild and scenic” rivers

June 23, 2015

Michael Wright, Bozeman Daily Chronicle

A coalition of environmental groups is shopping around a list of 55 waterways they say might deserve a “wild and scenic” designation, a federal protection that would prevent dams from being built, ensure water quality is maintained and restrict activity that might harm those streams.

The group, called Montanans for Healthy Rivers, drafted a proposal for certain sections of Montana rivers to receive the designation and has held public meetings around the state, with the next happening tonight in Bozeman.

The group is holding these meetings to find out what people think and whether there are rivers that need to be removed from the list or added.

“We are open to receiving feedback,” said Charles Drimal, a waters conservation associate at the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, one of the partner groups.

Most of the river sections included run through public land. Included in the proposal are portions of both the Gallatin and Madison rivers, Hyalite Creek and several others across Montana.

The protection is available under the 1968 National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Designation is reserved for streams with significant scenic or other value and happens through an act of Congress.

Montana only has three stretches of river protected now — the forks of the upper Flathead and a 150 mile stretch of the Missouri between Fort Benton and Fort Peck Reservoir.

Both were designated in the 1970s, and the group says now is the time to add to that.

“The longer we wait to do this type of thing the harder and harder it will be,” said Mike Fiebig, an associate director for American Rivers, one of the partner organizations.

Designation for East Rosebud Creek is on the table now. After a dam was proposed on the stream, area residents began a push for protecting the stream. That led to a bill in the last Congress that ended up dead.

Montana’s Congressional delegation introduced legislation to designate the stream earlier this month.

But, East Rosebud Creek isn’t the only stream Montanans care about. Over the last few years, Montanans for Healthy Rivers has met with groups and several individuals to find out which rivers citizens want to be considered. That feedback is what created the list, Drimal said.

“The rivers that are on that list have come from the ground,” Drimal said.

So far there has been little opposition, but the group also yet to reach out to two of the state’s major agriculture groups, the Montana Farm Bureau Federation and the Montana Stockgrowers Association.

John Youngberg, executive director of the Farm Bureau, said he hadn’t heard much of the proposal. After reviewing a news release about the project and a map of the proposed streams, Youngberg said he’d need more specific information about any proposed designation before he supported or opposed it.

He said problems could arise with what effects the designations might have on federal grazing leases.

ay Bodner, natural resource director for the Stockgrowers, also said his group hadn’t been contacted about the initiative. He agreed with Youngberg, saying there is potential for negative effects, but that wouldn’t be known until a proposal gets to Congress.

“I think when you look at Congressional designation, a lot of times landowners are going to be … very cautious,” Bodner said. “Typically with any designation’s going to come more restrictions, more regulations.”

Fiebig, of American Rivers, said the group had talked with individual landowners and ranchers in the Gallatin Valley and western Montana but hadn’t reached out to the trade associations.

“We’re not opposed to reaching out to them or talking to them,” Fiebig said.

Fiebig also said designations likely wouldn’t affect grazing leases or existing water rights. He described a wild and scenic designation as a snapshot in time — not restoring a stream to its former self, but keeping it the same.

“It’s more of a ‘keep it the way it is’ type of designation,” Fiebig said.

The public meeting is tonight at the Bozeman Public Library. The final public meeting in this series is slated for Thursday in Billings.

The original article can be found here.

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