By Eric Ladd, Explore Big Sky Publisher
This week a group of conservation and business leaders from Montana are in Washington, D.C., meeting with the Montana Delegation: Sen. Jon Tester, Sen. Steve Daines, Congressman Ryan Zinke and Congressman Matt Rosendale. The advocacy group includes staff from American Rivers, Gallatin River Task Force, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, American Whitewater, Outlaw Partners (publisher of Explore Big Sky) and a Missoula-based fishing guide.
The group is optimistic that the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act (MHLA) act will get introduced soon and is using the four days in D.C. to address questions and gain support from the Montana Delegation.
The MHLA is a piece of made-in-Montana legislation that would add new Wild and Scenic River designations and further protect Montana’s river legacy. Sen. Tester first introduced this legislation in the Senate in November 2020. The MHLA protects iconic streams that flow through public lands in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Smith River system. The streams in those regions are tributaries of the iconic Yellowstone and mighty Missouri Rivers.
The current legislation includes segments of 20 streams totaling 385.4 river miles, representing less than 0.25% of Montana’s 177,000 miles of streams. When passed into law, this legislation will nearly double the number of Wild and Scenic River miles in Montana.
Statewide efforts have been taking place to design MHLA. Those efforts include over 300 public meetings, countless trips to meet with county and state officials and thoughtful negations in D.C.
In reflecting on the efforts in D.C., Charles Wolf Drimal, with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said, “Today’s meetings in Washington, D.C. confirms that we’re fortunate to have the commitment of Sen. Tester to roll up his sleeves and work to protect Montana’s iconic rivers as Wild and Scenic. I’m hopeful other members of the Montana delegation will share this conversation value.”