An opportunity lost to politics

  • "Barbs" manipulate Yellowstone River's flow in Paradise Valley

    Tom Murphy photo
  • Rafter floats by some riprap on the Yellowstone River

    Dennis Glick photo

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

In President Clinton's 1997 State of the Union Message, he introduced the Heritage Rivers Initiative as a means to address the management issues of 10 notable American waterways, and as a vehicle to provide federal assistance and funding to complement state and regional efforts (HCN, 3/30/98: River heritage plan sent downstream).

Linda Moss, at the Yellowstone Western Heritage Center in Billings, saw it as an "opportunity for citizens to work with the federal government to achieve a shared vision." She spearheaded the campaign to sign up the Yellowstone, and supporters were enthusiastic about the rare opportunity to adopt a holistic approach to a watershed plagued by problems associated with micromanagement.

Many landowners didn't see it that way, however. At public hearings up and down the river, property owners shouted down the proposal and accused proponents of being "environmental elitists." More extreme elements claimed the Heritage Rivers Initiative was a United Nations' smoke screen plot to impose world government.

The vocal minority got its way. Montana Sen. Conrad Burns and Rep. Rick Hill, both Republicans, were persuaded by landowners to officially request removal of the Yellowstone from consideration, and it was. Whether or not the initiative represented the best and most intelligent program for river management, one more chance to see the river whole slipped away downstream.

Copyright © 2000 HCN and Alan S. Kesselheim

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