East Rosebud wild and scenic bill headed to Senate floor

Bozeman Daiy Chronicle

by Michael Wright

A bill to federally protect East Rosebud Creek from development is headed to the floor of the U.S. Senate, something the bill’s backers are calling a major milestone.

“The East Rosebud bill has never made it through committee before,” said Scott Bosse, the Northern Rockies director for American Rivers.

The bill, S. 1577, cleared the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Wednesday and now awaits time for a floor vote. It was introduced last year and had a committee hearing in March. The bill would designate 20 miles of the stream as “wild and scenic.” East Rosebud Creek begins in the Beartooth mountains and joins with West Rosebud Creek to form the main Rosebud Creek, a tributary to the Stillwater River.

The entire Montana delegation has supported the measure, and Montana’s two senators celebrated the progress in a news release Wednesday. Democrat Sen. Jon Tester said in the statement that “this creek should be preserved for future generations.” Republican Sen. Steve Daines said he “will continue working until this legislation becomes law.”

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act became law in 1968. The website for the program says that deeming a stream “wild and scenic” prevents the federal government from supporting the development of dams or other structures that would “harm the river’s free flowing-condition, water quality or outstanding resource values.”

Four streams in Montana are designated “wild and scenic”: 150 miles of the Upper Missouri River and three forks of the Upper Flathead River. The streams were protected in 1976.

A dam proposal on East Rosebud Creek in 2009 sparked the push for protections on that stream. Locals and river advocates opposed the dam project, which ultimately petered out, but fear of more projects convinced dam opponents to push for permanent protections.

Tester and then Democratic Sen. John Walsh carried a version of the bill in 2014. It had a committee hearing but didn’t advance.

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Bosse said the bill’s advancement to the Senate floor sets it up to be attached to a larger public lands package later in the session, if one surfaces.

Luke Jackson, a Tester spokesman, said in an email that Tester hopes the bill might pass the Senate by unanimous consent, a quick legislative process where no senator objects to the bill. Should that not work, Jackson said Tester would work with Daines to look for another way to “get this across the finish line.”

A similar bill, H.R. 2787, was introduced by Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke in the House. The bill is still in the House Natural Resources Committee, and a spokeswoman for Zinke wrote in an email that he is doing “absolutely everything he can” to get the bill through the process. Zinke said in a statement that East Rosebud is “a treasured and widely renowned resource.”