How quickly a decade can flow by! This August will mark ten years since we celebrated the passage of the Craig Thomas Snake Headwaters Legacy Act. This act of congress – which GYC is proud to have played a role in passing- added the headwaters of the Snake River and 12 of its most pristine tributaries in northwestern Wyoming to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. A decade has passed, and it’s never been more important to both celebrate and uphold this historic piece of legislation.
The Snake River Headwaters is unique in that it encompasses a connected watershed, rather than just one river or isolated rivers across a region. It includes 13 rivers and 25 separate river segments totaling 414 miles. These rivers flow through an iconic landscape of stunning canyons, open meadows, broad vistas, striking mountains, glacial lakes, and sage flats. These landscapes provide spectacular undeveloped settings that create a distinctive sense of place and offer world-class recreational opportunities within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem – one of the largest nearly intact temperate-zone ecosystems on Earth.
Designating a river as wild and scenic is the highest form of protection a river can get. Once a river is designated as wild and scenic its free-flowing character, water quality, and outstanding values must be maintained and enhanced in perpetuity. Wild and Scenic designation is more than just a catchy label - it signifies our nation’s commitment to protect a river for generations to come.
The idea of maintaining a free-flowing river is not just limited to preventing dams, power diversions, or additional irrigation withdrawals. It also applies to preserving the lateral freedom of a stream by limiting levies and similar constraints. Channel migration within the floodplain is a key component of river and riparian health. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act helps managers evaluate potential projects that constrict a river’s flow, harm water quality, or impact remarkable values, which often cause additional harm and negative affects downstream. We will continue to be diligent in watching out for these types of threats to our protected waterways.
The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is working to identify and protect streams and rivers throughout the ecosystem deserving of this level of protection. And we are proud of recent successes! Next on the list? Protecting Montana’s treasured rivers forever.
-Bob Zimmer, Waters Conservation Coordinator
-Charles Drimal, Senior Waters Conservation Associate