Guest opinion: Speak up now to keep Montana waters clean

2014-07-10T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Speak up now to keep Montana waters cleanBy LAND TAWNEY The Billings Gazette
July 10, 2014 12:00 am  • 

If you live in Montana, there’s a very good chance you are like me and love being outside to enjoy the beauty our great state has to offer. In fact, according to The Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research, nearly three-fourths of Montana residents vacation within the state, many of whom participate in outdoor recreation activities. We cherish our public lands and clean rivers and streams and research found on www.mt.gov shows that nearly 50 percent of us fish, compared with only 13 percent nationally.

Yet, in Congress this month, some U.S. senators are attempting to block an effort to protect our world-class headwater streams that provide cold clean water for trout and our Prairie Pothole Region that acts as the duck factory for the nation. Not only do our streams and potholes provide outstanding fish and wildlife but they also provide clean water for drinking and agriculture. We need to stop this misguided action.

Over the last few years, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued rulings that emphasized the need to clarify language that protects the safety of our drinking water supplies, wetlands and headwaters streams. Knowing they needed to clear things up and provide certainty for farmers, the Environmental Protection Agency and Corps of Engineers posted the draft “Waters of the U.S.” rule for public comment.

But now – with a bit of political maneuvering – some politicians are attempting to derail this clean water rule that would restore longstanding Clean Water Act protections to some of the nation’s most important waters and wetlands.

When final, the rule will maintain exemptions for regular farming activities, a vital part of Montana’s economy and heritage, while re-establishing Clean Water Act protections for the wetlands and streams that provide drinking water for 1 in 3 Americans. Here in Montana the EPA estimates nearly one quarter of us rely on intermittent streams for drinking water.

As a bonus for hunters and anglers, these same wetlands and streams provide critical habitat for ducks, pheasants and fish, thereby helping to sustain the strong hunting and fishing economy of Montana. Research shows that the total economic impact for fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing in our state is more than $3 billion annually and is responsible for producing nearly 10,000 jobs.

This is about a lot more than grabbing your fishing rod and heading to the stream to fish. It’s about the long-term economic viability of our state.

I urge you to join me in supporting the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule. And I ask Montana Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh and Rep. Steve Daines to do so, as well. All policy-makers should.

Sadly, more than half of the nation’s streams and rivers remain impaired by pollution and habitat loss. And our nation has been losing wetlands at an alarming rate. The most recent national assessment of wetland trends documented a 140 percent increase in the rate of wetland loss between 2004 and 2009. This was the first documented acceleration of wetland loss since the Clean Water Act was enacted more than 40 years ago.

These are repeated warnings to all of us of the fragility of our headwaters streams, Prairie Pothole Region and drinking water supplies. And good reasons to safeguard them. The public comment period for this clean water rule extends through Oct. 20, allowing sufficient time for sportsmen, small business owners and others who care about keeping drinking water and wildlife habitat free from pollution to share their support.

It is critical to the well-being of our state to take a stand now to protect our important natural resources. We call it the “Last Best Place” for a reason, let’s keep it that way!

Land Tawney, of

Missoula, is executive

director of Back Country Hunters & Anglers.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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