Rivers are Protected When We Protect Our Forests

Some people who have been advocating for support for Senator Tester’s Montana Headwaters Legacy Act (S. 2254), claim this legislation is “visionary” because it would ensure protection of the outstanding values of Montana’s rivers. But this claim rings hollow. Rivers don’t just exist in a vacuum, and magically contain clear, cold water. Where does this water come from? It comes from the forests around them. If you want to protect rivers, you have to protect the forests around them.

Protecting Montana rivers means that the surrounding forests will not be logged and roaded. Logging eliminates or reduces the shade forests provide. As a result, spring snow melts occur much earlier. The summer supply of water to rivers will be reduced as a result. Logging also involves building new roads. Although the Forest Service usually claims these roads are “temporary,” their effect of subsurface water flow down to rivers and streams is not. These roads intercept the subsurface water drainage in forests, whereby water is delivered to rivers and steams in hours or days, instead of weeks and months.

If you really are concerned about protecting Montana’s rivers, you need to address how the massive logging programs that are ongoing with the Custer Gallatin National Forest, in the greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, are impacting rivers, instead of just claiming support for the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act. Recent examples of this massive logging program include the East Boulder, Bozeman Watershed, Lonesome Wood, Rendezvous Trails, North Hebgen, East Bridger, and Greater Red Lodge projects. Individuals and the Montana congressional delegation can’t have it both ways.

If support for protecting Montana’s rivers is genuine, forest protection is required. Forest protection is all the more critical as the climate crisis progresses. Let’s be real about protecting rivers by protecting our forests. Please help Native Ecosystems Council protect rivers by protecting forests.