AW Appeal Protects Two Montana Rivers, Others Left At Risk

Posted: 01/30/2015
By: Kevin Colburn

Earlier this month the Kootenai National Forest found two incredible Montana streams to be eligible for Wild and Scenic designation as a result of an appeal filed by American Whitewater and American Rivers.  13 miles of Callahan Creek and 7.4 miles of Ross Creek will now be protected from dam building for the benefit of Montanans and visitors alike. The Forest dismissed requests for additional eligible streams.  Under a similar appeal, the Idaho Panhandle National Forest denied all requests for additional eligible streams. 

Callahan Creek is a likely hydropower target that is rich with history, bull trout, and whitewater challenge.  Ross Creek is a crystalline stream that flows through massive cedars, tumbles over a scenic waterfall, and courses through numerous Class IV rapids.  We are pleased to have represented the views of 85% of Montanans who believe that healthy rivers are important or very important to the state’s economy and way of life, not to mention the paddling community, in helping to protect these streams for current and future generations to enjoy.

In addition to these streams the Forests added several additional eligible streams during the planning process.  All together the Forest Planning Process increased the number of eligible stream miles from 123 to 150 on the Kootenai National Forest, and from 244 to 265 on the Idaho Panhandle Forest.  This incremental increase reflects the national, regional, and local importance of free-flowing rivers and the livelihoods and experiences they support. 

With this said, the Forests ignored or dismissed paddling values on nearly all streams, including gems like Slate and Boundary creeks. Rather than relying on expert opinions, they stated a belief that Class IV and V paddling does not appeal to enough people to qualify streams as eligible, and a belief that paddling experiences are the same on many streams and thus don’t make streams special.  These comments reveal a lack of understanding and appreciation of whitewater paddling as well as the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. 

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was written and passed as a counter-balance to hydropower development.  When the act was passed the dam threats, and therefore the designation targets, were primarily on large rivers, many of which were on the cutting edge of whitewater paddling yet had recognized recreation values.  Today the hydropower threats and conservation targets have shifted to relatively small steep whitewater rivers.  Paddlers are often the most likely citizen group to be impacted by dams on these streams, and the most likely group to recognize and speak for their special values.  Decisions like these by the Forest Service undercut the balance sought by Congress and the American people in passing the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

American Whitewater proactively shared paddling experiences and values with the Forests in an accessible and respectful way that we hoped would foster appreciation for wild rivers and their enjoyment.  While celebrating the new protection of two outstanding streams, we are disappointed in the Forest Service.

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