Laws of the Land

Politics & outdoor affairs.

It’s easy to get lost in the weeds of national headlines and policy, but what happens out our back door is just as important. Many a fierce battle are fought by local organizations and grassroots movements, fighting tooth and nail to keep Montana’s outdoors healthy and wild. Not to mention legislative efforts—Great American Outdoors Act, anyone? Here are a few hot topics that had newsworthy updates of late.

Montana Headwater’s Legacy Act
If it isn’t obvious, water is the next gold—just ask California. In October, Senator Jon Tester brought the Montana Headwater’s Legacy Act to light, calling to designate 336 river miles on 17 streams as Wild & Scenic. What exactly does that designation mean? Well, in 1968, Congress enacted the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, making it legally possible to preserve streams in their natural free-flowing state. The actual verbiage used to determine eligibility describes a river that possesses “outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values.” Sound like southwest Montana rivers to you? Us too. 

You’d think Montana would be leading the charge in this department, but in fact we currently only have 388 miles of Wild & Scenic rivers, which pales in comparison to Idaho’s 891 and Oregon’s 1,916. It’s a hopeful glimmer, though, and if passed will protect many of Bozeman’s beloved watersheds, including the Gallatin, Yellowstone, Madison, and Boulder river systems. 

yellowstone river, wild & scenic rivers

South Crazy Mountains Land Exchange
We’ve been hearing about this one for over a decade, and for good reason. Public access in the Crazies has a long history of confusion and frustration shared by both outdoor enthusiasts and landowners alike. Multiple efforts are underway to consolidate checkerboarded ownership, and the South Crazy Mountains Land Exchange saw its most recent update last December when the Crazy Mountain Ranch portion (arguably the most controversial section) was dropped from the deal. Known for great elk habitat and hunting opportunity, the 1,305 public-land acres originally slated to be traded for 1,920 acres of the Crazy Mountain Ranch has received serious pushback from locals since 2015, as well as from conservation groups like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. Though the Forest Service opted to drop this section for now, future deals with the Crazy Mountain Ranch still remain on the table. The other two portions (1,877 acres combined of the Wild Eagle Ranch and Rock Creek Ranch) are scheduled to be traded for 1,920 acres of Forest Service lands.

Lucky Mineral Mine Rejection
Whatever hopes Lucky Minerals had of obtaining rights to drill for gold in Paradise Valley were squashed last December when the Montana Supreme Court rejected the Canadian company’s final (hopefully) bid to mine in Emigrant Gulch. The nearly four-year battle was led by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) and Park County Environmental Council (PCEC), represented by Earthjustice. The whole thing saw two lawsuits and an appeal. After a Montana district court ruled the mining exploration unlawful in 2018, Lucky Minerals found a legislative loophole to pursue their project as if the permit were valid. GYC and PCEC wasted no time in filing an additional suit, and after Lucky Minerals appealed a second ruling at the district level, the Montana Supreme Court wasted no time rejecting it.