Through sun, rain, and even a little late June snow, we've been on the ground this summer inventorying rivers and creeks across Montana’s Custer Gallatin National Forest – nearly 5,000 square miles of your public lands north of Yellowstone.
And what are we looking for? From jagged peaks of the Madison Range to broad tundra plateaus of the Beartooth Mountains, we’re analyzing streams to see if they might be eligible to be protected under a law that keeps rivers clean and free-flowing – the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.
Over the next few months, I’ll be joined by interns Connor Gray and Taylor Simpson to document clean gravel and shaded pools (for fish), willow and cottonwood galleries (for wildlife), and the scenery (for humans). We're also documenting how people play here and the cold water that offers refuge from a changing climate. And we're recording any changes to the creeks and riverbanks brought about by water resource projects and other infrastructure.
Our national forests operate under a rule that stipulates that all rivers named on standard quad maps need to be studied for Wild and Scenic River eligibility. We have a lot of work to do if we want to inventory all of these rivers. The Custer Gallatin National Forest, which stretches from southwest Montana to South Dakota, has 940 streams. About 760 of those flow in Greater Yellowstone.
Our goal is to present a thorough, objective, field-checked report with recommendations on Wild & Scenic River eligibility to the Custer Gallatin National Forest by this fall.
The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created by Congress in 1968 to preserve certain streams with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations. In Montana, only four streams have received this level of protection – the three forks of the Flathead River and Upper Missouri River Breaks. That was done over 40 years ago.
While Congress usually designates new Wild & Scenic Rivers, our public lands managers are supposed to review streams and consider their potential eligibility. To be considered eligible as Wild & Scenic, a river or creek must be “free-flowing” and possess at least one “outstandingly remarkable value.”
Earlier this month, the Forest Service released its initial review of eligible rivers, and they want your input. If you have a favorite fishing spot and/or creek or stream you want to keep like it is, get involved! Contact me to find out how.
-- Charles Wolf Drimal, Waters Conservation Associate