By David Tucker EBS Contributor
Anyone who has spent time on the Gallatin River would agree it is among the finest waterbodies in the western United States. For whitewater enthusiasts, there’s the Mad Mile, anchored by the iconic House Rock. For anglers, there’s Baetis Alley, a dry-fly fisherman’s dream and veritable bug factory. For wildlife watchers, there’s the upper river, boasting moose, otter, bear and the occasional wolf sighting.
Indeed, there may be no river more deserving of our country’s highest protections, and now, with the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act, we have the opportunity to grant the Gallatin that designation.
This made-in-Montana bill would conserve the Gallatin and 16 other rivers and streams under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. In addition to the Gallatin, the Taylor Fork, upper Madison, upper Yellowstone, Boulder, Smith and Stillwater, among others, would also be included and protected. Elsewhere in Montana, only East Rosebud Creek, 150 miles of the Upper Missouri River and the three forks of the Flathead River enjoy Wild and Scenic status, and it’s high time we add to that list.
Even among Montana’s iconic rivers, the Gallatin stands out for its recreation and scenic values. Easy access along the entire river corridor, from Spanish Creek to the Yellowstone National Park boundary, makes the Gallatin one of the most visited rivers in the state, which is saying a lot considering how much Montanans love their rivers.
A recent study conducted by the University of Montana concluded that almost 80 percent of Montanans support additional Wild and Scenic status for the Treasure State’s aquatic gold mines. That is an overwhelming majority at a time when we have difficulty agreeing on anything, and a clear sign that protection is necessary.
This historic legislation is the result of over a decade of grassroots organizing from the Montanans for Healthy Rivers (MHR) coalition, of which the Gallatin River Task Force is a member. MHR representatives have spent countless hours presenting at public meetings, meeting with elected officials, and connecting with business owners, landowners and federal agencies.
Through this outreach, one thing is clear: Montanans love rivers and want them protected. From mine operators to fisheries biologists, support for Wild and Scenic status is only growing, as pressure on our water resources increases. Angler days are on the rise; land development is booming; interest in water-based recreation is more popular than ever; and agriculture remains our largest economic sector and the hallmark of Montana’s heritage.
These pressures are perhaps more evident on the Gallatin than anywhere else. River-access points are overflowing with vehicles. Previously empty stretches of water are now stacked with anglers. Kayakers on the Mad Mile resemble commuters on a Los Angeles freeway. Now is the time to protect this treasure before it is too late.
As a headwaters community, Big Sky’s water resources are naturally fragile. Our supply is highly dependent on sensitive climate cycles that require cold, snowy winters and mild, wet springs. This cycle impacts the quantity and quality of fresh, clean water. Wild and Scenic status is one tool at our disposal that will help protect this fragile resource, and now is the time to wield it.
To support Wild and Scenic status for the Gallatin, visit healthyriversmt.org and endorse the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act. Call members of the Montana delegation to voice your support, and encourage friends and neighbors to sign on to the legislation, as well.
For more information about the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act and Wild and Scenic designation, visit healthyriversmt.org.
David Tucker is the communications manager for the Gallatin River Task Force.