East Rosebud Creek should stay the way it is – a ribbon of clear water tumbling from the top of the Beartooth Mountains down a breathtaking valley of pine trees, deer, elk, moose and bears.
People who know and love this stream along the Beartooth Front in Carbon County agree that they want to keep the status quo. That’s what draws them into the Custer National Forest to hike, hunt, fish, kayak or camp in the vicinity of the creek. Dozens of people have cabins just outside the National Forest boundary or at East Rosebud Lake. Some stay year-round, like Frank Annighofer, who weathers the deeps snows of winter when the East Rosebud Road is barely passable. Others have family ties to this land dating back more than 100 years.
Leslie Ziegler, president of Friends of the East Rosebud, has loved her cabin near the creek outside the National Forest for 34 years. Her place is about a mile and a quarter from the stretch proposed for Wild and Scenic designation. Ziegler and other creek neighbors have fought to keep the stream undeveloped.
Senate Bill 2392, introduced by Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., would designate as Wild and Scenic the 13 miles of the creek from its start near Fossil Lake to East Rosebud Lake and the seven-mile stretch from East Rosebud Lake to the Custer National Forest Service boundary. East Rosebud Lake itself isn’t proposed for designation because private property surrounds the lake. Only public land in the National Forest would be part of the Wild and Scenic designation.
There have been multiple attempts to dam the East Rosebud. The latest proposal for two hydro dams and extensive infrastructure along the creek spurred Friends of the East Rosebud to action.
“They feel the area should be left as it always was,” Ziegler said. “There’s no oil or gas here, just granite rock, millions of years old.”
Because the creek is eligible for Wild and Scenic designation, the Forest Service already manages it that way. However, management will not prevent another developer from getting permits.
Rather than fighting against every new development idea, Friends of the East Rosebud want the creek protected forever.
“We’ve seen three proposals for hydro dams and there really isn’t enough water,” Ziegler said.
In a hearing before a U.S. Senate committee on July 23, Walsh said he “was overwhelmed by the broad support for the designation” in a community meeting held in Billings.
He pointed to the economic benefits from people who enjoy the creek supporting small businesses in Billings, Roscoe, Columbus and Red Lodge.
The East Rosebud Homeowners Association, which represents the owners of 68 private cabins on East Rosebud Lake, agrees that the creek should remain undeveloped, but board members have diverse opinions about whether it should be designated Wild and Scenic, said Dayle Hayes, homeowners association president.
Some members are passionately in favor, some are equally passionate in opposition, Hayes said, adding: “They are not pro-development but question increased federal oversight.”
However, the association has been communicating with other organizations that favor the Wild and Scenic designation. A meeting was set for Saturday for members to ask questions of Wild and Scenic proponents. Such dialogue is crucial.
Walsh has elevated the discussion and initiated the legislative process. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., joined him as a cosponsor. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who reportedly was considering introducing his own Wild and Scenic bill in April, should do so. Keeping this beautiful stream pristine and free-flowing is a Montana issue, not a partisan issue. Ultimately, the creek will need support of Montana’s entire congressional delegation. That’s the only way to ensure generations to come can enjoy the free-flowing creek that generations past have treasured.