The Need for Wild and Scenic River Protections
Having moved from corporate America to American Rivers last year, one of the best things I’ve found about working for American Rivers is the increased appreciation I continue to gain for the importance of the work done by our conservation staff. Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to travel and fish with Scott Bosse, our Northern Rockies director, to meet with some of our supporters and while there had a chance to sample some of his favorite trout streams in the Greater Yellowstone area.
Our first river was the Gallatin near Yellowstone National Park, just south of Big Sky, Montana. Like many of the people we talked with in the area, I had the wrong impression that the Gallatin is protected from damming and development because of its proximity to the Park and its fabled history going back to Lewis and Clark.
What became clear was that as communities like Big Sky inevitably grow, so will the pressures on this wonderful river. There’s hope in the fact that the Gallatin has been found eligible for designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and if we are successful in our Montana campaign, the Gallatin and many other rivers in this great state like it will be protected forever.
The second river we fished was Bitch Creek in eastern Idaho. This river runs through a gorgeous steep-walled canyon, before joining the Teton River in a remote canyon that sees very few anglers. It is one of the last, best strongholds for Yellowstone cutthroats in the Teton Basin, as Scott notes. While the canyon is a source of beauty and wildness, it also makes the river attractive for damming. The Bureau of Reclamation and State of Idaho are currently studying the feasibility of building new water storage projects that would severely harm the native trout fisheries in Bitch Creek, Badger Creek, and the Teton River Canyon.
What a tragedy it would be to lose this fantastic trout stream, yet again there is hope in that these three rivers (Bitch, Badger, and Teton) are eligible for Wild and Scenic River designation. Several of the local landowners in the area support the designation, as do many local groups and fly shops. Hopefully with the support of more like them and the dedication of the American Rivers staff, it will gain the nation’s highest level of protection in the not-so-distant future.
The last river we fished was the meadow section of Crystal Creek, a tributary of the Gros Ventre River in northwest Wyoming, where we were joined by colleague Liz Hennrikus. I’m tempted to not write about it to help keep it a secret, but it’s an important example of a beautiful stream that’s already been protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Neither I nor the picture added here, can begin to describe the strong impression this river makes as it winds through this high meadow. The cutthroats have been here since the Ice Age and are just as hungry as ever. They come up from their secret hiding places to sip an unsuspecting mayfly or a Parachute Adams off the surface before sliding down to their holding locations. If you think a river is alive on its own, you should see it when a 17” native cutthroat hits your fly.
The good news is that this stream, along with 12 others that make up the headwaters of the Snake, were protected as Wild and Scenic in 2009, when the former president of American Rivers, Rebecca Wodder, joined President Obama at the signing ceremony in the White House. With this protection, Crystal Creek, its cutthroat trout, and the other wildlife that thrives along it will remain as they are for future generations to enjoy. I’m hoping to take my son there in the next year or two, as an example.
The pressures on our beautiful rivers are real and present, whether from proposed dams, development, or dewatering. While there has been great work to save rivers like the Crystal, there is much more to be done on behalf of Bitch Creek, the Gallatin, and countless others. Learning what we, our staff and our supporters, can do to protect them gives me a stronger appreciation for both the work of our dedicated staff and the generous support of the members and foundations that make that work possible. When you see them and fish them, you understand that protecting streams like Castle Creek, Bitch Creek, and the Gallatin couldn’t be more important.