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Tester sponsors legislation designating 17 wild and scenic rivers in Montana
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Tester sponsors legislation designating 17 wild and scenic rivers in Montana

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Sen. Jon Tester, Montana Headwaters Legacy Act

The East Gallatin River flows past the Montana TroutChasers Lodge where Sen. Jon Tester introduced the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.

The number of miles of wild and scenic rivers in Montana would jump by nearly 87% under legislation to be introduced by Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.

Tester was joined in Gallatin Gateway Tuesday by representatives of Montanans for Healthy Rivers. The group secured the senator’s sponsorship of the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act, which if passed, would list 336 miles of rivers and creeks in the Custer-Gallatin and Helena-Lewis and Clark national forests under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

“In times of trouble like we’re experiencing right now, we really understand the power of rivers and the need to protect them because more and more people are moving to Montana, but the supply of healthy and intact rivers is diminishing,” said Scott Bosse, Northern Rockies director for the organization American Rivers and co-founder of Montanans for Healthy Rivers. “And that’s why it’s so important to proactively protect these rivers today, and that’s why it’s so important to give this gift to future generations.”

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed in 1968 to preserve listed rivers with significant natural, cultural or recreational values as free-flowing and as natural as possible. Primarily the law precludes any federally licensed dams and may curb other activities that could affect water quality, such as mining.

East Rosebud

A view of East Rosebud Creek is shown looking south toward the Beartooth Mountains.

Montana currently has three rivers and creeks listed as wild and scenic totaling 388 miles:

  • Segments of the North, Middle and South forks of the Flathead River were listed in 1976.
  • The Missouri River from Fort Benton to Fred Robinson Bridge were also listed in 1976.
  • East Rosebud Creek from its source in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness to East Rosebud Lake was listed in 2018.

The Montana Headwaters Legacy Act would add 17 rivers and creeks to that list. Fifteen of those waters are in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest and two in the Helena-Lewis and Clark.

Sen. Jon Tester, Montana Headwaters Legacy Act

Sen. Jon Tester introduces the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, at the Montana TroutChasers Lodge. The act proposes to protect 17 rivers and streams, amounting to 336 river miles.

“If we don’t do things about it today, smart things, not crazy things, just smart things, to help protect these resources moving forward they won’t be here for our kids, they won’t be here for our grandkids,” Tester said.

Rivers and creeks proposed in the Upper Yellowstone watershed are:

  • Bear Creek from the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness boundary to its confluence with the Yellowstone River.
  • The Boulder River from the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness boundary to the Custer-Gallatin National Forest Boundary at Natural Bridge Falls.
  • Lake Fork of Rock Creek from the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness downstream to the wilderness boundary.
  • Rock Creek from the Montana-Wyoming border to the Custer-Gallatin National Forest boundary.
  • Hellroaring Creek from the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness boundary to the Custer-Gallatin National Forest boundary.
  • Slough Creek from the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness boundary to the Custer-Gallatin National Forest boundary.
  • Stillwater River from the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness downstream to the wilderness boundary.
  • West Boulder River from the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness downstream to the wilderness boundary.
  • West Stillwater River from the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness downstream to the wilderness boundary.
  • West Fork Rock Creek from the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness boundary to the Custer-Gallatin National Forest boundary.
  • The Yellowstone River from the national park boundary in Gardiner downstream to the Carbella Fishing Access Site.

Rivers and creeks proposed in the Missouri Headwaters Region are:

  • The Gallatin River from the national park boundary downstream to the confluence with Spanish Creek.
  • Hyalite Creek from its source in the Gallatin Range to Hyalite Reservoir.
  • Upper Madison River from 2,000 feet downstream of the Hebgen Lake Dam to the confluence with the West Fork of the Madison River.
  • Beartrap Canyon on the Madison River from 800 feet downstream of Madison Dam to the Lee Metcalf Wilderness boundary.
  • Taylor Creek from the Lee Metcalf Wilderness boundary to the confluence with the Gallatin River.

River and creeks proposed in the Upper Missouri River watershed.

  • Smith River from the confluence with Tenderfoot Creek to the confluence with Deep Creek.
  • Tenderfoot Creek from the confluence with Iron Mines Creek to the confluence with the Smith River.

Advocates of the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act say they have received endorsements from more than 1,000 businesses including fishing and whitewater guides, and Tester cited the support as a reason for his sponsorship of the bill.

“There’s going to be more and more pressure put and air and water every day,” he said. “And now we’re really past the time to do something about it, but we have a great coalition of people together, and I think we can get this across the finish line. The reason we can get this across the finish line is because of the on-the-ground support in this state and across the country.”

Tester spokesman Roy Loewenstein said the senator is currently the only sponsor for the bill and he expects it to be formally introduced when the Senate reconvenes after the election.

Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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State Reporter/Outdoors Reporter

Tom Kuglin is the deputy editor for the Lee Newspapers State Bureau. His coverage focuses on outdoors, recreation and natural resources.

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