Northern Rockies

Wild and Scenic East Rosebud Creek, Montana | Photo by Sinjin Eberle

The Northern Rockies region is home to the largest collection of pristine free-flowing rivers and native trout fisheries left in the lower 48 states.

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321 East Main, Suite 408
Bozeman, MT 59715

The headwaters of these pristine rivers originate in three sprawling wilderness complexes – the Crown of the Continent along the US-Canadian border; the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem where the MissouriSnake, and Green rivers are born; and the Salmon-Selway Ecosystem in central Idaho, where endangered salmon and steelhead still migrate 900 miles from the Pacific Ocean to spawn.

Smith River | Photo by Pat Clayton
Smith River | Photo by Pat Clayton

These rivers are defined by their WILD, FREE-FLOWING CHARACTER, clean water, intact native fish and wildlife assemblages, and world-class recreation opportunities. All of the native fish species that were present here two centuries ago can still be found here today, including five subspecies of cutthroat trout, bull trout, rainbow trout, steelhead, Chinook salmon, and white sturgeon. Among the iconic wildlife species that call these rivers home are grizzly and black bears, gray wolves, wolverine, river otters, bald eagles, trumpeter swans, moose and elk.

The rivers of the Northern Rockies generate billions of dollars annually from outdoor recreation, hydroelectric production, irrigated agriculture, and water for industrial uses. Overshadowing all of these values are the ecosystem services these rivers provide such as clean drinking water for people, critical habitat for fish and wildlife, and natural flood control in the form of intact wetlands and floodplains.

Key Issues

Across the Northern Rockies, American Rivers is working to:

Protect wild rivers: The Northern Rockies are home to some of the most storied Wild and Scenic Rivers in America, including the Salmon and Middle Fork Salmon rivers in Idaho, the upper Flathead and upper Missouri rivers in Montana, and the Snake River in Wyoming. We are currently working to pass federal legislation that would designate 20 new Wild and Scenic Rivers totaling 385 river miles in Montana, including portions of the Gallatin, Madison, Smith, and Yellowstone rivers. We are also engaged in several land management plan revisions that will determine the long-term fate of thousands of river miles on the Lolo National Forest in Montana, the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest in Idaho, and the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming. Finally, we are spearheading advocacy campaigns to block harmful new hardrock mines in the headwaters of the Smith River in Montana and the South Fork Salmon River in Idaho.

Restore damaged rivers: While the Northern Rockies are home to thousands of miles of wild rivers, existing dams have caused tremendous harm to migratory salmon runs and native trout populations alike. We are working with Native American tribes, other conservation organizations, and rural communities to build support for removing the four lower Snake River dams in southeast Washington, which would restore wild salmon and steelhead to 5,500 miles of pristine, high-elevation streams in Idaho and northeast Oregon. We are also advocating for the removal or modification of the Felt Dam on the Teton River in eastern Idaho to restore native Yellowstone cutthroat trout to the river’s headwaters.

Conserve clean water for people and nature: The Northern Rockies states are experiencing some of the fastest growth rates in the nation. As more people are moving to the region, development is encroaching on ecologically valuable floodplains and nutrient pollution is causing algae blooms and threatening fish and other aquatic life. We are working in communities like Big Sky, MT, and Jackson, WY to upgrade wastewater treatment systems so treated effluent can be used for irrigation and snowmaking instead of being discharged directly into rivers.

Smith River | Photo by Pat Clayton
Smith River | Photo by Pat Clayton

Track Record of Success

Since we opened our Northern Rockies office in 2009, we have won long-term and permanent protections for hundreds of rivers and streams totaling more than 2,000 river miles. Over that time, we have protected a total of 14 new Wild and Scenic rivers totaling 435 river miles and gained long-term administrative protections for 1,375 river miles by engaging in land management plan revisions on U.S. Forest Service lands. Following are some of our biggest conservation victories over the past decade:

  • Gained Wild and Scenic designation for 13 rivers, 415 river miles and 132,800 acres of riverside lands in the Snake River Headwaters in northwest Wyoming (2009)
  • Killed proposed hydropower projects on East Rosebud Creek and the upper Madison River in Montana (2013)
  • Permanently banned all new mining and energy development in the transboundary North Fork Flathead River watershed in Montana and British Columbia through passage of the North Fork Watershed Protection Act (2014)
  • Permanently protected the upper Hoback River in northwest Wyoming from industrial-scale oil and gas drilling in its headwaters (2014)
  • Thwarted 27 proposed dams in the Henry’s Fork watershed in eastern Idaho, including a proposal to rebuild the Teton Dam on the Teton River (2014)
  • Won long-term administrative protections for 20 rivers, 286 river miles, and 91,520 acres of riverside lands on the Shoshone National Forest in northwest Wyoming (2015)
  • Won long-term administrative protections for 14 rivers,150 river miles, and 48,000 acres of riverside lands on the Kootenai National Forest in northwest Montana (2015)
  • Stopped two proposed dams on the Upper Green River in Wyoming by getting them stricken from the state’s new water plan (2015)
  • Gained Wild and Scenic designation for 20 miles of East Rosebud Creek, marking Montana’s first new Wild and Scenic designation in more than four decades (2018)
  • Won long-term administrative protections for 24 rivers, 284 river miles, and 90,880 acres of riverside lands in the Flathead National Forest in northwest Montana (2018)
  • Won long-term administrative protections for 45 rivers, 361 river miles, and 115,520 acres of riverside lands in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest in west central Montana (2021)
  • Won long-term administrative protections for 31 rivers, 294 river miles, and 94,080 acres of riverside lands in the Custer Gallatin National Forest in southwest Montana (2022)
  • Won a lawsuit to stop the proposed Black Butte Copper Mine from being built in the headwaters of Montana’s Smith River (2022)

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