Explore Big Sky: Sen. Tester’s bill would protect 336 river miles

by Greater Yellowstone Coalition

Today, Montana Sen. Jon Tester introduced the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act into the U.S. Senate. The Montana Headwaters Legacy Act is a made-in-Montana bill that protects 336 river miles in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Smith River watershed.

The Montana Headwaters Legacy Act will designate 17 stream sections as a part of the National Wild and Scenic River System, the highest form of river protection in the U.S. Montana only has 388 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers, compared to 891 miles in Idaho and 1,916 in Oregon. The most recent Montana addition was the East Rosebud Wild and Scenic Act, passed in 2018. The addition of 336 miles represents less than 0.25 percent of Montana’s 177,000 miles of streams.

“This is a historic day in Montana river conservation,” said Charles Drimal, waters conservation coordinator at the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “The Montana Headwaters Legacy Act will ensure a lasting future for many of Montana’s wildest rivers. Montanans rely on these streams economically and love them recreationally. We thank Senator Tester for championing this bill and prioritizing Montana’s river heritage.”

Statewide support for the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act is made possible by Montana Outfitters and Guides, riverside landowners and a robust endorsement list, and this rivers bill has broad support across Montana. In early 2020, the University of Montana Voter Survey on Public Lands showed that 79 percent of Montanans support the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act and designating new rivers as Wild and Scenic.

Montana’s robust outdoor economy relies on healthy rivers. The industry accounts for $7.1 billion in spending and over 71,000 jobs, making it the second largest sector in the state next to agriculture, which also relies on clean water. The Montana Headwaters Legacy Act will protect many of the most popular rivers so they can be enjoyed for years to come. Clean, free-flowing rivers are good for business.

The Montana Headwaters Legacy Act is the result of over a decade of collaboration and outreach in Montana. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is a part of the Montanans for Healthy Rivers Coalition, a group of conservation leaders, business owners, guides and outfitters, river recreators, and landowners working to identify and conserve the last, best free-flowing rivers in Montana.

Next, GYC is calling upon Senator Steve Daines to cosponsor the bill and for Congressman Matt Rosendale to introduce a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. “We need their help to pass the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act swiftly. Our rivers take care of us, now it’s time to take care of them,” says Drimal.