Congress is in a brief period when it must act on significant legislation, so the possibility of action on good, long-awaited changes is higher.
It’s time to remind Montana’s delegation of a straight-forward Wild and Scenic River designation that has had bipartisan support for years. It’s time to finally place East Rosebud Creek under protection of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
The East Rosebud is a clear, cold ribbon of water that tumbles out of the Beartooth Mountains in south central Montana. It travels through the Custer National Forest in a valley filled with pine trees, deer, elk, moose and bears.
Proposals to permit hydro dams on the creek spurred ranch neighbors and area cabin owners to action several years ago. Neither the proposed dams nor the extensive infrastructure required was built, but the creek is still vulnerable to future development — unless Congress designates it as wild and scenic.
Montana lawmakers introduced legislation to protect the East Rosebud, starting in 2014. In 2015, Democrat Jon Tester and Republican Steve Daines introduced a Senate bill to protect the creek. Their bill unanimously passed Senate committee last year, but didn’t make it to the Senate floor. At the same time, Ryan Zinke, then Montana’s U.S. representative, introduced a House bill.
Again this spring, Daines and Tester introduced a Senate bill (S. 501) to permanently protect the East Rosebud under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Senate bill would only apply to federal public land, not to private land. The Forest Service already manages these public lands as if they were wild and scenic, so there wouldn’t be a change in management. The congressional designation would ensure that these public creek sections would always be wild and scenic.
Rep. Greg Gianforte hasn’t yet introduced the House companion bill needed to move the East Rosebud protection forward.
Gianforte, who took office in June, visited Carbon County last summer and heard from Friends of the East Rosebud. According to the Aug. 3 Carbon County News, Gianforte told East Rosebud supporters: “My goal today is to hear from the residents. I’ve been here before and down the beaten path and I know how precious the public lands are and the desire of the community here to preserve this. What’s impressed me is the work Frank (Annighofer) has done (and) there is such unanimity in the support of the landowners.” Annighofer is vice president of the Friends of the East Rosebud.
The Gazette contacted Gianforte’s office Thursday and asked for his position. A spokesman replied: “Greg supports designating East Rosebud Creek a federal wild and scenic waterway, recognizes what a priority it is for the community, and will introduce companion legislation in the House soon.”
His window of opportunity is closing fast. If this popular, noncontroversial East Rosebud protection is to be attached to a must-pass bill this year, there’s barely two weeks to get the job done. With all House members and a third of the Senate up for re-election in 2018, legislative productivity is expected to slow further. Gianforte and Tester are among the lawmakers who are campaigning for re-election.
Montanans who live, work, vacation, hike and fish along East Rosebud Creek have been striving for years to maintain this natural treasure. Montana’s lone congressman should do what his constituents ask: Bring forward a short, simple, clean House bill to designate East Rosebud Creek wild and scenic forever.