Brad Niva: Montana Headwaters Legacy Act is good for business | Columnists

BRAD NIVA

A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to join a group of fellow Montanas on a trip to Washington, DC to meet with our Congressional delegation regarding the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act (MHLA).

The MHLA is a Montana-made bill that would add 20 rivers and streams in the upper Missouri and Yellowstone river systems to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The Wild and Scenic designation is the highest level of protection rivers can obtain in the United States. It protects the rivers from any federally authorized project that would harm their free flow, clean water and significant values. The idea for the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act originated right here in Montana, and we currently have five Wild and Scenic Rivers totaling approximately 388 river miles.

Among the waterways the MHLA would protect are the Gallatin River and the Taylor Fork, both of which are heavily used and loved by members of the Big Sky community who fish, paddle and hike along them. Other notable rivers that would benefit from protection include the Boulder, West Boulder, Madison, Smith, Stillwater, and Yellowstone.

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One of the highlights of our trip to the nation’s capital was our meeting with Senator Steve Daines, who frequently visits Big Sky. During our meeting, Senator Daines listened as we talked about why we support the MHLA and how we think it’s good for business. And we listened when he told us why he thinks any new conservation designation should be balanced with measures that will make it easier to conduct logging, mining and other extractive activities in appropriate places on our federal public lands.

By the end of our meeting, we all felt that Senator Daines understood that protecting our most precious rivers by passing the MHLA is both extremely popular among residents of southwestern Montana and greatly needed to maintain our thriving outdoor recreation economy and our equally vibrant agriculture. economy.

That’s why I was caught off guard when Senator Daines told a June 7 Senate subcommittee hearing that the MHLA was not carefully controlled or broadly supported by local communities. My experience at Big Sky is that the MHLA has virtually unanimous support among a wide range of stakeholders, including fishing and whitewater guides and outfitters, outdoor stores, hotels, restaurants and key development interests which include the link between healthy rivers and a thriving local economy. .

I also have personal experience living and working on the Wild and Scenic Rivers, having outfitted the Wild and Scenic Rogue River in southern Oregon before moving to southwestern Montana to take the head of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce. What this experience has taught me is that protecting rivers and drinking water is not only compatible with promoting successful businesses in rural western communities; it is a prerequisite.

Ultimately, the MHLA is carefully vetted, deeply supported by nearly eight in ten Montanese, community-focused, and strikes an elegant balance between conserving our most prized rivers while allowing everyone to use them and to take advantage of it. For these reasons, I urge Senator Daines to join Senator Tester in pushing the MHLA to the finish line by the end of the current Congress.

Brad Niva is the Executive Director of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce.

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