BOZEMAN – After four years of gathering input from a broad cross-section of Montanans from across the state, Montanans for Healthy Rivers released a draft citizens’ proposal to add more than 700 river miles in western Montana to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The vast majority of the river miles proposed for protection flow across public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, with nearly half flowing through federally designated wilderness areas.
Among the storied waterways being proposed for Wild and Scenic River designation are portions of the Gallatin, Madison, Boulder, Smith, Dearborn and North Fork Blackfoot rivers; as well as cherished streams such as East Rosebud Creek and Rock Creek by Missoula.
The draft proposal incorporates input from approximately 200 groups, businesses and landowners from across the state and reflects the results of a bipartisan statewide river poll that Montanans for Healthy Rivers commissioned in February 2014. That poll found that 86% of Montanans believe healthy rivers are vital to Montana’s economy and way of life, and 75% of Montanans support using the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to protect more of the state’s rivers.
Montanans for Healthy Rivers will seek public feedback on the draft Wild and Scenic Rivers proposal at five community river forums across the state during the month of June. Meetings will be held in Seeley Lake on June 2, Missoula on June 3, Kalispell on June 16, Bozeman on June 23, and Billings on June 25. For more information on these forums, go to: http://healthyriversmt.org/june-2015-community-river-forums/.
The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is our nation’s way of permanently protecting outstanding rivers in their clean, free-flowing condition. The Act is a flexible tool that protects what makes our rivers special without limiting recreational access and other compatible activities. Currently, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System includes more than 200 rivers and 12,000 river miles, representing less than one-half of one percent of the nation’s river miles.
The idea for the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was born in Montana in the 1950s when the famed wildlife biologist, John Craighead, was fighting the proposed Spruce Park Dam on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River along the southern border of Glacier National Park. The dam was never built, but the fight over it spurred Craighead and his twin brother, Frank, to promote the idea of creating a national system of protected rivers. In 1968, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.
“I’m really proud of the fact that my dad and my uncle helped come up with the idea for one of the most forward-thinking conservation laws in America,” said Lance Craighead, who runs a wildlife research institute in Bozeman. “It’s time to bring the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act back home to Montana. Our rivers need the protection now more than ever.”
Montana has just four Wild and Scenic Rivers – the three forks of the Upper Flathead River and a 150-mile stretch of the Upper Missouri River between Fort Benton and Fort Peck Reservoir. All four river reaches were designated in 1976 thanks to the efforts of then-freshman Congressman Max Baucus. In the meantime, the neighboring states of Wyoming, Idaho and Utah have seen almost 900 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers designated since 2009 alone.
“Protecting these amazing rivers by designating them as Wild and Scenic is not only good for fish and wildlife, but it will also be a boon for Montana’s outdoor recreation economy, which is worth an estimated $5.8 billion annually and supports 64,000 jobs,” said Marne Hayes, Executive Director of Business for Montana’s Outdoors. Fishing in Montana alone generates a half a billion dollars a year in economic activity, according to the American Sportfishing Association.
One Montanan who sees those benefits directly is Russell Parks, owner of the Missoulian Angler in Missoula. “People come from across the country and around the world to fish Montana’s rivers, and they pump a lot of money into local economies when they’re here. Protecting our last best rivers by getting them designated as Wild and Scenic not only is a wise investment in our future, but it’s also a badge of honor for our rivers.”
Deb Davidson, whose family owns property along the Smith River, is excited about the prospect of permanently protecting more than 700 miles of rivers across western Montana so families like hers can experience the joy of clean, free-flowing rivers for generations to come. “There are few things I’d rather do than spend a day floating, fishing and swimming with my kids on one of Montana’s spectacular rivers. I can’t think of a greater gift that we can give future generations of Montanans than the gift of clean and healthy rivers.”
To view a map showing all of the proposed Wild and Scenic Rivers in the citizens’ proposal, go to: healthyriversmt.org/our-proposal.
Kevin Colburn, American Whitewater, (828) 712-4825
Charles Drimal, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, (406) 224-2588
Mike Fiebig, American Rivers, (406) 600-4061
Greg Haller, Pacific Rivers Council, (208) 790-4105
Steve Platt, Montana Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, (406) 202-2457