Protect Our Own Rock Creek
Last year two conservation groups, American Rivers out of Washington, D.C. and Healthy Rivers MT out of Bozeman, started presentations to the Rock Creek community and surrounding area vowing to protect 31 miles of Rock Creek, and approximately 700 miles of Montana rivers overall, for future generations by federal management and control. These organizations are well-funded, so well, that they hired full-time employees to promote the agenda through well-scripted (although vague) presentations.
The overall theme of the presentations is protection -- protection from whom? From the private land owners and ranchers who have, for generations, been faithful stewards of the land through which Rock Creek flows? From the Lolo District of U.S. Forest Service? From Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks who has managed the fish so well that Rock Creek has drawn significant attention from tourist fishers and guides? Or maybe from our Granite County officials who oversee the road maintenance? From the organizations who currently manage conservation easements? How about the Department of Natural Resource and Conservation Service that oversees stringent regulation and permits for any construction on or near Rock Creek? We have so many great people and organizations protecting our little piece of river. It’s logical; we work to protect the river for our enjoyment and livelihoods now, and for generations to come. We protect our own.
Now, there are outside enthusiasts and conservationist who want to love us to death. They want to protect Rock Creek by officially designating it as a wild and scenic recreational area under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (W&SR) that was signed into law in 1968 to protect rivers from dams and other federally-funded projects. Under the provisions of this Act, the term river means a flowing body of water or estuary or section, portion or tributary thereof, including rivers, streams, creeks, runs, rills, and small lakes. Therefore any waters going into the designated watershed would come under federal management and control.
While W&SR designation and protection may sound good to some, especially to those with outside interests, this designation would have consequences that will impact our community forever. Such a designation would adversely affect ranching, forestry management, recreational and economical opportunities, and private land ownership through federal over-reach and burdensome regulation. Sure-to-follow will be litigation as private land owners’ dispute strict water-flow and water-quality compliance to other Acts that work in conjunction with W&SR – the Endangered Species Act, Heritage Rivers Act, Clean Water Act, etc. Courts throughout the country are full of long and costly cases against private landowners based on these federal laws.
Proponents of W&SR designation state that private property and water rights will not be affected. This is misleading as the boundary of the river will be measured from ¼-mile from the high water mark on each side of the river. Under W&SR, the Secretary of Agriculture or Interior can issue guidelines and specify standards for local zoning ordinances that are consistent with the Act – far reaching regulation and impact on a landowner’s right to manage their land. W&SR states in Section 6 (b) “nothing contained in this section, however, shall preclude the use of condemnation when necessary to clear title or to acquire scenic easements as reasonably necessary to give the public access to the river and to permit its members to traverse the length of the area or of selected segments thereof.” Just to be considered for designation, the Secretary requires a report that includes, “reasonably potential uses of the land and water which would be enhanced, foreclosed, or curtailed if the area were included in the national wild and scenic rivers system.” In its entirety, W&SR is peppered with statements about condemnation, acquisition, regulation and the consequences of non-compliance.
In addition, such a designation would lead to increased exposure and the consequent adverse effects of over-use. If designated, Rock Creek would become part of the national park system and the national wildlife refuge system and would be managed accordingly. In March 2016, the National Parks Service claimed underfunding of 11 billion dollars with a maintenance backlog which includes everything from eroding trails to road maintenance and facility upkeep. We cannot count on an underfunded federal bureaucracy to care for our creek like we do. We can count on more tourists, more trash, more road wear, and over-fishing on a small body of water. Specifically, W&SR states in Section 2 (a) that administration costs be shared by State and local agencies, without expense to the United States. So, we have a federal agency that will “protect” our river, but costs to deal with increased exposure and over-use will fall on the already overburdened budgets of Montana and Granite County, ultimately dragging more money out of taxpayers’ pockets for the benefit of outside interests.
In its 2015 Annual Report, American Rivers claimed to be, “Your voice for rivers in Washington, D.C.” “This year, thanks to the efforts of American Rivers and our partners, we saw the single biggest win for clean water in more than a decade. The Obama Administration finalized the Clean Water Rule, closing loopholes for polluters and restoring protections for millions of acres of wetlands as well as headwater streams, which comprise 60 percent of the nation’s stream miles and provide the drinking water sources for more than 1 in 3 Americans. American Rivers submitted detailed comments on the draft rule based on case law and sound science, and actively worked to protect the rulemaking from hostile bills in Congress.” Does this sound like an advocate for our community or a mouth-piece for Washington and well-funded organizations that want to use and abuse Rock Creek? Does it sound like there is enough money for litigation against our property owners and community as we manage Rock Creek for prosperity and future generations? Let American Rivers and affiliate conservationists’ organizations move on – we will protect our own.
The only reason the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was put in place was to inhibit the building of federally-funded dams and construction projects in a time when these types of projects were abundant – Rock Creek is not large enough to ever require a dam. Conservation organizations are using an antiquated law to further their agenda of redistributing privately-owned land to the public through over-regulation. These organization representatives claim to love and want to protect these pristine waters. They may, or may not, have spent time on Rock Creek. How can they LOVE it as we do? As Rock Creek landowners, we implore you to join us in this battle to oppose the deep-pockets of Washington and other outsiders who give us an interpretation of protection cloaked in ambiguity and promises. If you are in agreement, please sign a petition to protect Rock Creek from federal management and control. Help us Protect Our Own Rock Creek.
Sue and Spencer Huffman
P. O. Box 1216
Philipsburg, MT 59858
PETITION: PROTECT OUR OWN ROCK CREEK
Rock Creek and its watershed are protected by landowners, ranchers, businesses, conservation easements, Granite County, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and the Lolo National Forestry Service. Additional federal regulation is not required to maintain Rock Creek’s free-flowing condition and water quality. Current stringent laws and managing entities shall protect Rock Creek for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.
I oppose the designation of Rock Creek for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act for the following reasons: 1) Designation would infringe on private property and water rights of landowners, 2) Designation would add to the federal regulations on Rock Creek and any watershed that leads to Rock Creek, 3) Designation would limit the use of the land for agricultural and forestry practices, 4) Designation would lead to additional regulation and over-exposure costs thereof to be borne by Montana and Granite County, 5) Designation would lead to costly litigation to landowners for non-compliance to the W&SR Act and other related acts.