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Wild and scenic designations needed in Montana

2014-08-03T00:00:00Z 2014-08-04T11:59:08Z Wild and scenic designations needed in Montana The Billings Gazette
August 03, 2014 12:00 am

I remember being astounded when I rolled into the beautiful East Rosebud valley for the first time as a teenager.

In the past couple years, controversy erupted in that valley after a Bozeman-based company filed for permits with FERC to put a hydroelectric dam in both the East Rosebud and in its sister stream, the West Rosebud. Locals on the East Rosebud turned out in surprising numbers to fight a dam in their neighborhood and the project was dropped.

The East Rosebud Creek is actually one of several stretches of rivers in Montana that is eligible for Wild and Scenic protection — a federal designation that preserves special rivers from degradation, including damming. The idea was actually born in Montana. The Craighead twins — famous for their Yellowstone grizzly studies in the ’70s — came up with the idea when the Army Corps of Engineers was planning on putting a dam in the middle fork of the Flathead River near Glacier Park in the 1950s. The idea was not that development of dams was bad, but that they needed to be balanced with setting aside and protecting the best free-flowing rivers.

In 1976, the Missouri River Breaks and the three forks of the Flathead were officially designated as Wild and Scenic. But Montana has not added a single stream since then.

Fortunately, this spring Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., introduced a bill to designate 20 miles of East Rosebud. Whether the bill comes from Walsh, Tester or Daines, the truth is that protecting Montana's free-flowing rivers is not a partisan issue. It's no accident that a state that produced “A River Runs Through It” also produced the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. It's time to remember that and bring the act home to Montana.

Joel Harris

Billings

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