The Rewards of Grassroots Advocacy: Saving East Rosebud Creek, Montana

East Rosebud Creek, MT | © Mike Fiebig

East Rosebud Creek, MT | © Michael Fiebig

It has been nearly a year since my last blog post on East Rosebud Creek, and I have some great news to share! Because of the hard work of a number of individuals and groups such as Friends of East Rosebud, Northern Plains Resource Council, Stillwater Protective Association, American Whitewater, and American Rivers, the company that was planning to dam and divert the creek for hydropower has dropped their preliminary permit to do so!

As a result, spring came to East Rosebud Creek much like it does each year: bears awoke from their winter slumber above the creek on the Beartooth Plateau to forage for roots and carrion, wild trout migrated between East Rosebud Lake and the Yellowstone River as melting snow coursed down the creek, moose browsed among the budding willows, and skiers and ice climbers gave way to anglers, paddlers, horsepackers, and hikers. The smell of backyard and campground barbeques mingled with the sweetness of spring wildflowers.

This might not have been the case. Three years ago, Bozeman-based Hydrodynamics Inc. filed an application for a preliminary permit with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to build a hydropower project on East Rosebud Creek. The project would have been located in the Wild and Scenic eligible reach right below East Rosebud Lake, and would have entailed building a 100-foot wide diversion dam, a 2-mile long penstock, a substation, powerhouse, and transmission lines. This hydropower dam would have forever altered a special creek. Let’s develop existing structures first, we said. 97% of our existing dams and irrigation ditches do not have hydropower capabilities, and some streams are just too precious to dam. This messaging seems to have paid off.

Last summer we were celebrating East Rosebud Creek in order to build grassroots support for fighting the proposed dam. This summer we are celebrating a conservation win, not only for East Rosebud Creek, but also for those who have fought to protect it!

East Rosebud Creek | © Mike Fiebig

East Rosebud Creek | © Michael Fiebig

Even still, the victory is incomplete. This was the second such dam proposal that the local community has fought off, and they hope not to have to fight a third, fourth, or fifth proposal in the future. With the help of American Rivers, local groups like the Friends of East Rosebud are working to permanently protect East Rosebud Creek as a Wild and Scenic River. With a lot more work and little bit of luck, we hope that East Rosebud Creek will join the small but elite group of rivers that are protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act for future generations to enjoy.

This summer we are celebrating a win for East Rosebud Creek, but we know that the long, challenging road to permanent protection lies ahead. Luckily, American Rivers, the Friends of East Rosebud and a new coalition called Montanans for Healthy Rivers are up to the task of protecting this cherished stream!