The Yellowstone River is the longest, free-flowing waterway in the lower 48 United States. It embodies a wide array of natural, historic, and culturally rich resources that are treasured by the communities who call it home. Yet much of the river system is relatively inaccessible between Hysham, Montana and the North Dakota border, hampering recreation and stewardship along this uniquely remote lower corridor. A desire to share, conserve, and enhance this cherished resource for the benefit of visitors and surrounding communities has inspired grassroots efforts for change.
Building on local initiative, a citizen-based advisory committee was created during the summer of 2021 to help shape future opportunities for improved access, habitat conservation, and sustainable economic development. Sponsored by Governor Greg Gianforte and convened by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), the 12-member Lower Yellowstone River Corridor Advisory Committee (Committee) reflected the diversity of the river corridor itself, capturing the agricultural, recreational, conservation, and economic values so important to the region. Technical advisors from FWP, the Bureau of Land Management, and others provided resource management knowledge and values. And while the Committee and Chair were responsible for generating recommendations, authority to implement lies with FWP.
The Committee was tasked with two overarching goals:
Develop a scoring matrix for evaluating Yellowstone River corridor acquisition opportunities aimed at improving public access and habitat conservation;
Identify investments needed to maximize habitat conservation and protection while enhancing sustainable public access and recreational opportunities.
Committee deliberations ensured that the rural nature of the region is preserved and maintained while emphasizing sustainable economic development. Recommendations are intended to guide use of a $4 million spending authority secured by FWP through the 2021 Montana State Legislature. Funds have specific sideboards and are available until spent within the Lower Yellowstone River corridor downstream of the Bighorn River confluence to the North Dakota border, prioritizing opportunities where access is most limited.
After dividing into three work groups, committee members engaged with local landowners and their communities, considered regional impacts, and conducted site visits to develop recommendations to FWP, to include:
A scoring matrix for evaluating land acquisitions and other opportunities aimed at improving public access and habitat conservation.
Overall management approaches that maximize diverse recreational opportunities, prioritizing those where access is most limited.
A list of existing or potential future opportunities for public access and/or habitat conservation.
Needed amenities, safety features, and economic growth considerations at access points.
Strategies for securing long-term funding needs.
The Committee recently shared its final report of recommendations with FWP Director Hank Worsech, discussing the process it used and next steps. FWP will then determine, with public input, how to move forward on the recommendations.