Tester Reintroduces Montana Headwaters Legacy Act to Protect 384 Miles of Montana Rivers

Senator’s bill designates stretches of the Gallatin, Madison, and Smith Rivers as “wild and scenic” to protect for future generations

As part of his continued work to protect Montana’s public lands, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today re-introduced his Montana Headwaters Legacy Act, legislation that will protect 384 miles of Montana rivers —the most significant wild and scenic designation in nearly 45 years.

“Protecting public lands in Montana is about preserving the livelihoods of our communities and making sure we pass on that heritage to future generations – and this bill was built from the ground up to do just that,” said Tester. “The Montana Headwaters Legacy Act is built on the passionate work of ranchers, conservation organizations, recreationists, and advocates alike, and I’m proud to continue this fight to ensure that clean, free-flowing rivers, untouched by special interests, can be enjoyed by generations of Montanans to come. Together, we’ll get this bill signed into law to protect the rivers, lakes, and land that make Montana the Treasure State. ”

Tester’s Montana Headwaters Legacy Act will protect some of Montana’s most iconic recreational rivers—including the Gallatin, Madison, and Smith as well as headwater streams in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest—to ensure they are permanently protected from short-sighted special interests. The legislation brings together conservationists, outfitters, and recreationalists alike, and is supported by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, American Rivers, American Whitewater, the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, and the Gallatin River Task Force.

“Whether you like to paddle, fish, or just sit by the water and take it all in, each river in the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act offers visitors exceptional opportunities to connect with some of the most beautiful rivers on the planet,” said Kevin Colburn, National Stewardship Director for American Whitewater. “These rivers’ clean water, majestic scenery, and thriving ecology are an inspiration to all who visit, and protecting these values is a gift we can offer future generations. I’m proud to support the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act and thank Senator Tester for his leadership as we protect our rivers and fight to get this legislation across the finish line.”   

“We are grateful for Senator Tester’s continued commitment to river conservation. The Montana Headwaters Legacy Act is community-driven, broadly supported, and deeply vetted legislation crafted by Montanans through a decade of public input,” said Charles Drimal of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “When passed into law, this Wild and Scenic Rivers designation will support Montana’s world class fish and wildlife populations, maintain ecological integrity, safeguard resilient river landscapes in the face of climate change and ensure the Yellowstone and Missouri headwaters remain clean and free-flowing for generations to come.”

“The Montana Headwaters Legacy Act would forever secure some of the most iconic stretches of river in the state, not only for current and future generations, but also for the benefit of Montana’s $7.1 billion outdoor economy,” said  John Sullivan, Board Chair, Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “The Wild and Scenic designations would preserve what we love about these waterways. It would ensure they remain wild, clean and free-flowing while also preserving public access and many traditional uses of these rivers.”

“The Montana Headwaters Legacy Act is our best chance of protecting some of Montana’s most cherished rivers while they’re still relatively healthy,” said Scott Bosse, Northern Rockies Regional Director, American Rivers. “Our rivers need it, local communities want it, and future generations will thank us for it.”

“Protections outlined for Montana’s rivers and tributaries in Senator Tester’s Montana Headwaters Legacy Act would preserve habitat, protect future river health, and safeguard against additional impacts that face Montana’s rivers today, and in the future,” said Kristin Gardner, CESO, Gallatin River Task Force. “This legislation is a commitment to keeping Montana’s rivers like the Gallatin healthy, and ensures that we have the right tools to invest in our rivers for future generations.”

“Montana’s rivers are an iconic and critical piece of our state’s outdoor economy, providing essential habitat for healthy fisheries and an economic foundation for communities and businesses across the state,” said Marne Hayes, Director, Business for Montana’s Outdoors. “Senator Tester’s Montana Headwaters Legacy Act establishes the caliber of protections necessary to preserve these rivers today and for the future and secure their unique and irreplaceable values.”

“The Montana Headwaters Legacy Act is an investment for future generations and a tool to maintain our most beautiful river corridors across Montana and our entire country,” said Brad Niva, Executive Director, Big Sky Chamber of Commerce and Visit Big Sky. “Wild rivers and their watersheds need protection so that these unique ecosystems can prosper for the next century and be an oasis for fish, wildlife and visitors alike.” 

“Many wild plants that we traditionally harvest for food and ceremony grow right alongside our rivers in riparian landscapes,” said Gerald Gray, Chairman of the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council. “As a people, we depend on clean water and healthy rivers. Our physiological health, spiritual wellbeing, and economy rely on them. That is why on behalf of the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council we are proud to endorse the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act.”

“Permanent protections for Montana’s rivers are good for business in Gallatin County. The health of the Gallatin River is fundamental to our culture, economy, and way of life,” said Zack Brown, Chairman, Gallatin County Commission. “The Montana Headwaters Legacy Act is common sense policy that is built upon a sturdy foundation of consensus and collaboration. The Gallatin County Commission is proud to support this important legislation on behalf of our 120,000+ constituents.”

“I am very pleased to see that the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act includes the public lands portions of the Gallatin River, Taylor Fork and Hyalite Creek, which is the primary source of Bozeman’s drinking water,” said Cyndy Andrus, Mayor of Bozeman. “Protecting these important headwaters streams will also protect every downstream water user, including farmers and ranchers, municipalities, industrial users, and river-based recreationists that contribute to Montana’s $7.1 billion outdoor recreation economy.”

“The Montana Headwaters Legacy Act is one of the most important pieces of bipartisan legislation in our lifetimes,” said Eric Ladd, Outlaw Partners CEO. “The importance of the MHLA cannot be overstated as this will be a generational piece of legislation that our children and grandchildren will thank us for passing. Clean and healthy waterways are as logical as gravity.” 

“We are very happy that Senator Tester is championing the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act,” said Joe Dilschneider, Owner of Madison River Fishing Company and Trout Stalkers Fly Shop. “This important legislation validates the paramount social, economic and environmental importance of Montana’s great rivers like the Madison.”

“The Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana (FOAM) fully supports the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act. Our future is inexorably tied with that of the rivers,” said Michael A. Bias, Ph.D., Executive Director, FOAM. “This landmark, locally-supported legislation would protect a landscape worth of rivers in the Greater Yellowstone and Smith River systems by designating them as Wild and Scenic, the strongest form of federal river protection in the United States.”

“Our family has owned a ranch on the Smith River for more than 40 years, and we’ve seen countless people become deeply impacted by its wild, remote and serene beauty,” said Willie Rahr, Smith River landowner. “This bill will keep the river the way it is so future generations of Montanans can enjoy it as we have.”

“Wild Livelihoods is a coalition of businesses in southern Park County, adjacent to Yellowstone Park. We are grateful to have Senator Tester bring the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act back to the floor, as all of us somehow rely on the local wild, clean, free-flowing rivers included in the Act, particularly places like the Upper Yellowstone and Bear, Slough, and Hellroaring Creeks,” said Ashea Mills, Wild Livelihoods Business Coalition. “As primary contributors to the $500 million annual tourism revenue in Park County, a portion of the state’s $7.1 billion outdoor recreation industry, we see these rivers as our lifeblood, both literally and economically. We derive our drinking water here; we fish and recreate on these creeks, sometimes with friends, often with clients. We hike on their banks, and engage with the wildlife they sustain, be that wildlife viewing or hunting outside Yellowstone Park. These are the waters downstream that sustain our cattle, provide river recreation opportunities, and braid this part of the ecosystem with the lifeblood of the land. Those of us that live, recreate and sustain ourselves economically and personally in this landscape strongly support the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act, as these waters are literally our sustenance. We look forward to bipartisan support from Senator Daines, Representatives Rosendale and Zinke, along with Governor Gianforte, and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.”

In 1968, Congress passed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to preserve rivers with cultural and recreational value in their free-flowing condition for present and future generations. Less than one-half of one percent of Montana’s approximately 170,000 miles of river is designated as “wild and scenic.”


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