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National Forest Protects 360 Miles of Streams in Montana

Posted: 02/05/2021
By: Kevin Colburn

In a big win for rivers, the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest released their new Forest Plan this month. The Forest includes the classic Multi-day section of the Smith River, the headwaters of the Blackfoot River, and the rugged and beautiful Rocky Mountain Front region of Montana. The new Forest Plan offers interim protection for 360 miles of incredible rivers by finding them eligible for Wild and Scenic designation – triple the river miles protected under the old plan. A full 250 of the protected river miles are on whitewater rivers. American Whitewater and the paddling community has offered support for this decision since at least 2014, and the Forest Service has done a great job.


Two rivers receiving protection, the Smith River and Tenderfoot Creek, are included in the proposed Montana Headwaters Legacy Act, a Wild and Scenic Rivers bill that American Whitewater and our partners feel is ready for introduction this summer. The continued eligibility finding by the Forest Service is a nice confirmation that these rivers are widely recognized as deserving permanent protection. This Forest Plan follows a decade of AW working with our friends at Montanans for Healthy Rivers to celebrate the state’s rivers and the benefits of Wild and Scenic designations. In a recent bipartisan poll, 79% of Montanan’s supported the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act.


It is primetime right now for paddling on the Rocky Mountain Front, a spectacular region where the jutting limestone peaks of the Bob Marshall Wilderness drop abruptly onto the Northern Plains. Most of the paddling in this area requires hiking up into steep-walled canyons prior to descending, on rivers like the Dearborn, Sun, Teton, and South Fork of the Two Medicine. This area received some special protections several years ago with the passage of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. It is sacred to the Blackfeet Nation, a recreational treasure, and home to abundant fish and wildlife. 


Wild and Scenic eligibility is a flexible river conservation tool that typically lasts for the 15-20 year life of the Forest Plan. It helps the Forest Service design and review proposals for things like timber sales or recreation development in a way that protects the river values while allowing compatible projects to occur. It also puts a significant roadblock in front of new dams, though only Congressional Wild and Scenic designation can put a permanent end to dam proposals. 


We’d like to thank the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest for a job well done on their Wild and Scenic eligibility process. 


Want to take action for wild rivers in Montana? Use our super simple easy-action form to write your congresspeople and let them know you support designated more Wild and Scenic Rivers in Montana today!

Kevin Colburn

Asheville, NC

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Associated Rivers

Sun River (South Fork) MT
Wilderness Run II-III(V)
Teton River (North Fork) MT
Box Canyon II-III
Teton River, North Fork MT
Teton River, South Fork MT
Roadside II-III
Two Medicine, South Fork MT
Canyon III-IV


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