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Water Wisdom: A wild and scenic gallatin

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A view of the Gallatin River in the Gallatin Canyon near Big Sky. PHOTO COURTESY OF AMERICAN RIVERS


With the weather warming and the days growing longer, I recently drove up Gallatin Canyon dreaming not only of powder turns, but also of spring runoff.

As of mid-March, the Gallatin River watershed was at a whopping 124 percent of average snowpack, which was abundantly clear looking out my truck window. As the snowcapped peaks of the Gallatin and Madison ranges stood out against the deep blue sky, my thoughts drifted toward paddling or fishing after work, and hiking or climbing above the river on weekends.

For wild, free-flowing rivers in Montana, a big snowpack means higher flows or a longer paddling season, sometimes both. This also means clean, cold and copious water for fish, wildlife, recreationists and downstream irrigators.

I for one love that the Gallatin River is not only my backyard river, but that it’s a wild river. And there is a growing coalition of individuals, business owners, conservationists and recreation groups working to keep it that way by proposing it for designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

The coalition, Montanans for Healthy Rivers, needs your help to make the Wild and Scenic Gallatin River a reality. This designation would keep the Gallatin clean and free-flowing, as well as protect the recreation, scenery and historic values that Montanans love about the river corridor. At the same time, the act protects public access and doesn’t impact private property rights.

Recently, Montanans celebrated the passage of the 2019 John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act, which protected the Yellowstone River from mining and permanently reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It also designated over 600 miles of new Wild and Scenic rivers in seven states, from the coastal forests of Oregon to the redrock canyons of Utah.

The proposed Gallatin River Wild and Scenic designation is part of a larger, made-in-Montana bill called the Montana Headwater’s Security Act, which would designate 37 of Montana’s best headwaters streams as Wild and Scenic, primarily in Greater Yellowstone and the Crown of the Continent. Other rivers in the Act include public lands sections of the Madison, Yellowstone, Smith and Dearborn rivers, as well as Rock Creek outside of Missoula.

Montanans for Healthy Rivers needs your help to make the Montana Headwaters Security Act a reality. Now is the time to permanently protect our favorite backyard rivers like the Gallatin. Consider taking a minute to call Sens. Jon Tester or Steve Daines, or Congressman Greg Gianforte to ask them to introduce the Montana Headwaters Security Act.

To learn more about the act and which waterways it would protect, visit

Mike Fiebig is an avid paddler, member of Montanans for Healthy Rivers and serves as the Northern Rockies Conservation Director at American Rivers.

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