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Conservation Tools

For decades, Montanans have worked to conserve our rivers and streams. We are always using Montanans’ ingenuity and can-do spirit to find ways to use our rivers more wisely, while still respecting property rights and economic development.

For rivers running through private lands, Channel Migration Zone mapping can provide landowners with critical information about stream movement and floods. Using floodplain easements, landowners can reap significant tax benefits for leaving valuable wildlife habitat intact. Through restoration projects that involve reconnecting rivers to their historic floodplains and eradicating noxious weeds like tamarisk and Russian olive, landowners, river users, and fish and wildlife all benefit.

On public lands, designation of a river under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act requires the federal government to protect it’s free-flowing character, clean water, and outstanding values from inappropriate development. The idea for the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was born in Montana when the legendary wildlife biologists John and Frank Craighead were fighting the proposed Spruce Park Dam on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River in the 1950s. Presently, Montana has just four Wild and Scenic designated river sections – the three forks of the upper Flathead River and the White Cliffs section of the Missouri River, but it hasn’t had any new rivers designated since the mid-1970s. Given the unprecedented threats that Montana’s rivers now face, we think it’s time to give more of our rivers the same level of protection.

Please explore the river conservation tools that we have compiled below, and then send us your input regarding where you would like to see these tools applied, and any new tools that you would like to see utilized.

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act

This landmark law is meant to ensure that the construction of new dams is balanced with the protection of select free-flowing rivers that possess nationally significant values, and is the highest form of protection for rivers in the United States. Less than 1 percent of our nation’s river miles are protected as Wild and Scenic. Though neighboring states such as Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah all have designated new Wild and Scenic rivers in recent years, Montana has not protected a new stretch of river under the Act since 1976.

Download a PDF of Frequently Asked Questions about the WSRA
Download a Copy of the WSRA

River Restoration

While some Montana rivers are relatively pristine, others need some restoration work. In some places like the lower Yellowstone, invasive weeds such as tamarisk and Russian olive are becoming a serious problem. In others, old mining waste, obsolete car body rip-rap, out-of-date fencing, failing old bridges and culverts, and ditches all impact Montana’s rivers. Private landowners, conservation districts, land management agencies, and others can pool resources to restore river ecosystems and clean water.

Conservation Easements

Often yielding valuable tax savings, a conservation easement has been said to be “the legal glue that binds a property owner’s good intentions to the land in perpetuity.” These are market-based, voluntary agreements. Landowners who donate conservation easements retain title to their property, voluntarily working with a land trust to design the easement to fit their future needs. Conservation easements, in turn, protect their land from inappropriate development, regardless of changes in future ownership. This is a powerful river conservation tool, benefiting landowners, wildlife, rivers, and the public.

Channel Migration Zone Mapping

Channel Migration Zone (CMZ) mapping is based on the understanding that rivers are dynamic and move laterally across their floodplains through time. This non-regulatory mapping process uses the historic footprint of rivers to quantify rates of change and develop a predicted dynamic river corridor based upon erosion rates. A 100-year predicted channel migration hazard area is typically used to develop the CMZ area. CMZ maps give landowners, businesses and municipalities the tools that they need to plan for future infrastructure, risk management in the face of extreme weather, and for river conservation