Commentary

Gallatin River is at a critical point and needs protection

The Gallatin River (Photo by Diane Renkin of the National Park Service, public domain via Flickr).

For years, decades really, perhaps longer, community leaders, government officials, green non-government organizations and the Department of Environmental Quality have sought to keep the Gallatin River clean. The river has always been the pride and joy of our community. Many used its reputation as a “blue ribbon trout fishery” to entice visitors and growth to the area.

Perhaps we thought the Gallatin River was impervious to pollution. Maybe that allowed us to take the river for granted. For years it seemed to be the common, if unspoken refrain, let’s protect the Gallatin.

We now know Initiative 191, the petition to designate portions of the Gallatin and Madison Rivers to be declared Outstanding Resource Water, will not be on the November ballot. Gallatin Wildlife Association supported this effort because the quality of the Gallatin River is clearly in jeopardy. We hoped electronic signatures could be used to support I-191 and that supporters of the initiative would fund traditional signature gathering. Neither one happened.

For one, GWA efforts on the I-191 petition were not organized, nor funded by “big” out-of-state money. Face it, Bozeman, GWA is an 100% all-volunteer non-profit organization established in 1976 right here in Bozeman. GWA didn’t spend one dollar on this petition nor did we receive one dollar from any out of state source for this petition. Secondly, I-191 would not violate the Montana Constitution by “taking” private property rights without compensation. There is no right to pollute our river.

The Montana Constitution provides for the ballot process. This process is about as close to the people having a voice as you can get. People should have recourse when instate or out-of-state real estate developers exploit the land and politics for personal profit. Big money in power and politics make it hard for the rest of the citizenry to be heard.

Recently, DEQ released findings assessing the Gallatin River and found the following:

“This assessment of the Gallatin River indicates that the river is impaired due to exceeding thresholds for algae in 25 percent of the samples … . Excess algae is often caused by an exceedance of thresholds for Total Nitrogen and Total Phosphorus.”

This proves our point above and why we say the Gallatin River is at an inflection point. GWA is truly interested in applying the best scientific information to resource protection in these dire times of climate change. Our motive is simple: Be a voice for fish and wildlife with a commitment to doing what science suggests to save the planet. Montana citizens should be allowed to take necessary steps to protect what makes this the last best place without being villainized.

Nagel is the President of the Gallatin Wildlife Association and Nancy Ostlie is a board member.

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