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River Protections in Montana and New Mexico Hit Milestone in Congress

Posted: 06/09/2022
By: Kestrel Kunz

On June 8, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing on two Wild and Scenic River bills that would permanently protect over 830 river miles in New Mexico and Montana. This hearing was a critical milestone for these bills and moves them closer to the President’s Desk and being signed into law. American Whitewater and our partners worked hard to secure the hearing and we are thrilled to celebrate this win with our members and supporters. 


The Montana Headwaters Legacy Act aims to permanently protect 385 miles of 20 rivers north of Yellowstone National Park through Wild and Scenic River designation. The hearing featured comments and testimony by the BLM, the Forest Service, and Senator Steve Daines. The MHLA was carefully created by and deeply vetted by Montanans over the past 11 years and enjoys overwhelming support. Roughly 99% of businesses and organizations that have weighed in on the bill support it, including important tribal, economic, and county commission voices. We were disappointed that in his commentary, Senator Daines focused solely on the very limited opposition to the bill, including a hydropower company. American Whitewater staff and a delegation of Montanans met with Senator Daines just a few weeks ago and shared the overwhelming support for this bill. 


The BLM was more grounded in their testimony: "Montana is known for its beautiful landscapes and free flowing rivers that draw thousands of visitors each year, supporting an extensive recreation economy. WSRs protect outstandingly remarkable values, free-flow, water quality, biodiversity and increase resilience to the impacts of climate change. The designation of these rivers will help ensure they continue to be an important natural resource and significant contributor to local economies for generations to come. S. 2254 aligns with the Administration’s conservation goals, and the Department supports the bill."


The M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act would protect 446 miles on 20 rivers in the headwaters of the Gila and San Francisco river systems in New Mexico. These rivers are the southernmost snow-fed watersheds in the United States and serve as critical waterways in the face of climate change. These rivers provide exceptional paddling opportunities and ecological habitat, and have outstanding cultural and historical values. The watershed includes numerous sacred and cultural sites for Native Americans and the bill has full support from the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, along with a long list of other supporters. The unique wilderness paddling found in the remote stretches of the Gila and San Francisco Rivers will be protected in perpetuity through this legislation.  


Both of these bills will now need to go through mark-up, where any technical language changes are made before moving to a full Senate vote. American Whitewater and our partners will be working to ensure that the final bill language reflects the intent of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and that these rivers are protected for river enthusiasts and our future generations to come. We want to extend a huge thank you to our U.S. Senators in New Mexico and Montana that have been hard at work to secure a hearing for these Wild and Scenic River bills! 


Photo Credit: Gila River, Norm Gaume

Kestrel Kunz

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