The Yellowstone River stretches over 670 miles and is the longest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states. Originating in Yellowstone National Park, it drains 70,000 square miles of land before it joins the Missouri River northeast of Sidney, Montana. In addition to an abundance of fish and wildlife, the Yellowstone River supports a wide variety of agricultural, domestic, industrial, and recreational uses.
The natural and historic significance of the Yellowstone River, combined with major floods in 1996 and 1997, elevated interest and increased public debate over the impacts of human activities on the River. The lack of information upon which to base permitting decisions emphasized the need for public forums to discuss complex issues and potential solutions. Governor Marc Racicot created the Upper Yellowstone River Task Force in 1997 to address problems arising from the floods and begin studying the cumulative effects in Park County. In 1999, the Yellowstone River Conservation District Council was formed to address conservation issues on the entire river.
Who We Are
The Yellowstone River Conservation District Council (Council) is made up of representatives from eleven conservation districts (listed at the bottom of the page) bordering the main stem of the Yellowstone River. There are also two “At-Large” members on the Council representing the upper and lower reaches of the river. The Council has a chair and a vice-chair, one each selected from the upper and lower reaches of the river.
Conservation districts have over 60 years experience successfully working and cooperating with private individuals, groups, and agencies to conserve Montana’s natural resources. As legally established entities in their respective counties, they are ideally suited to develop partnerships with the many stakeholders dedicated to conservation of the river. The Council receives technical assistance and advice from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Department of Environmental Quality, Natural Resources Conservation Service, US Army Corps of Engineers, US Geological Survey, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and other agencies.
The Council’s purpose is to provide local leadership, assistance, and guidance for the wise use and conservation of the Yellowstone River’s natural resources. This purpose is founded on three fundamental precepts:
1) The need for scientific information on which to base management decisions.
2) The need for broad-based local, regional, and national input.
3) The need for technical and financial assistance to address sustainable use issues on the Yellowstone River.
The Council’s focus is to provide local leadership, assistance, and guidance for the wise use and conservation of the Yellowstone River’s natural resources through the promotion, implementation, and updates of the Yellowstone River Recommended Practices (YRRPs) and Position Statements. Their primary purpose is to work on multi-county issues that have a cumulative impact on the Yellowstone River.
Their purpose is founded on these fundamental precepts:
- Use unbiased scientific information on which to base land use and river management decisions;
- Encourage broad-based local, regional, and national involvement;
- Solicit technical and financial assistance to effectively address issues on the Yellowstone River;
- Inform and interact with the public regarding resource issues within the Yellowstone River corridor;
- Provide a mechanism and forum for resolving issues between stakeholders.
The primary resource issues include:
- Channel bank stabilization (310 permitting procedures);
- Altered hydrology – irrigation water use and Bighorn River Basin storage and releases;
- Riparian and wetland management;
- Water quality;
- Recreational uses of the river corridor;
- Agricultural, municipal, industrial, and domestic water needs and impacts;
- Scenic and aesthetic values of the River corridor;
- Noxious Weeds and Invasive species impacts
- Historic floodplain & side channel restoration
- Solid waste removal
- Fish passage and irrigation canal entrainment
- Oil, gas and brine water pipeline crossings.
- The Council hosted a Yellowstone River Symposium in March 2016 to celebrate the completion of the Cumulative Effects Assessment study process and engaged in extensive discussions for the future of the Council.
- The Council completed an comprehensive set of Yellowstone River Recommended Practices (YRRP’s) and position statements meant to complement the CEA and offer land management and structure design guidelines that address major impacts identified in the CEA. This information can be accessed through the Council’s website or local member Conservation District offices.
- The Council is currently in the process of establishing Working Groups that will provide implementation strategies and practical applications for the recommended practices. Currently the working groups that are operating are for Irrigation Water Management and Invasive Woody Plant Control.