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Senator Tester Reintroduces the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act!

Posted: 11/17/2023
By: Kevin Colburn

U.S. Senator Jon Tester reintroduced his Montana Headwaters Legacy Act (MHLA) on Thursday, setting the stage to double the number of protected river miles in Montana. If signed into law, the legislation would protect 20 rivers and 384 river miles in the Upper Missouri and Yellowstone river systems by adding them to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. A Wild and Scenic River designation is the highest form of federal river protection in the United States and would permanently protect the free-flowing nature, water quality, and outstandingly remarkable values of some of Montana’s most cherished rivers. Among the iconic waterways that would gain protection under the MHLA are the Boulder, Gallatin, Madison, Smith, Stillwater, and Yellowstone.

“Protecting public lands in Montana is about preserving the livelihoods of our communities and making sure we pass on that heritage to future generations – and this bill was built from the ground up to do just that,” said Tester. 

Since the bill was first introduced in Congress in 2020, support for the MHLA has continued to grow. A statewide public opinion poll conducted in June 2023 found that 85% of Montanans support the bill, up from 79% support in a statewide public opinion poll commissioned by the University of Montana in 2020. Supermajorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents were supportive of the legislation. To date, the MHLA has garnered formal endorsements from over 3,300 Montana citizens, 1,300 Montana businesses, the chambers of commerce in Big Sky, Gardiner, and Red Lodge; trade groups such as the Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana (representing 700 outfitters and guides), Montana Outfitters & Guides Association (representing over 200 guides), and Business for Montana’s Outdoors (representing 140 businesses across 20 industries). Other endorsers of the MHLA include the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, Carbon County Commission, Gallatin County Commission, Park County Commission, Professional Wilderness Outfitters Association, Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission, Sibanye Stillwater Mining Company, and the Rural & Agricultural Council of America. 

American Whitewater has been working closely with our partners and bill supporters on the MHLA since 2010 as a steering committee member of the Montanans For Healthy Rivers coalition. The bill would protect a treasure trove of whitewaters runs on some of the wildest rivers left in the Lower 48 states. We need your help: We are asking for paddlers to encourage the other three members of Montana’s congressional delegation to get behind the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act in the coming weeks. This has been a long-running effort, but even if you've done so in the past, please take the time to send a quick message to the delegation.

We made it easy: Click HERE to write the delegation. 

The last time a Wild and Scenic River was designated in Montana was in 2018, when the entire Montana delegation supported the effort to protect East Rosebud Creek. Thank You Senator Tester for reintroducing the MHLA, and now its time to pass Montana's next bipartisan Wild and Scenic River protections!  


Kevin Colburn

Asheville, NC

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Associated Rivers

Boulder, West MT
Clarks Fork Yellowstone WY
Rock Creek (Carbon County) MT
Smith MT
Stillwater MT
Tenderfoot Creek MT
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