Why a Task Force?
To the uninformed angler, leisurely casting dry flies to eagerly awaiting trout, the Gallatin may seem like a healthy waterway.
Its blue-ribbon designation and nearly 3,000 trout per river mile suggest the Gallatin enjoys a high level of ecological integrity, and in some ways it does—but it is also under threat from many angles.
While the Gallatin is under pressure from a variety of sources, we prioritize our based on what is having the most damaging impact, and what projects can generate the most positive outcome.
While nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are naturally occurring in the upper Gallatin watershed, higher than ideal concentrations can degrade water quality. In the Big Sky area, three Gallatin tributaries are impaired for nutrients, meaning they exceed state standards.
To combat this issue, we will launching the Nutrient Reduction Plan, a multi-phase strategy focused on targeted water conservation and habitat restoration projects. These projects will increase surface water flows, diluting nutrient concentrations, and restore native vegetation, natural filters that absorb nutrients keep them from entering ground and surface water resources.
The Gallatin is famous for its world-class fishing and raucous whitewater rafting. Tourists and locals alike take advantage of the roadside access, but this convenience has unintended consequences.
Visitors have created dozens of trails and roads along the river, trampling important streamside vegetation and eroding fragile riverbanks. This leads to increased sediment loads in the river and a degradation of habitat for aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.
To address the problem, the Task Force has partnered with Trout Unlimited and the Custer Gallatin National Forest to create a comprehensive River Access Restoration Strategy. Project work has been completed at Moose Creek and Upper Deer Creek, with sustainable boat launches installed, native vegetation replanted, and unsanctioned roads decommissioned.
Perhaps the biggest threat to the Gallatin—and the hardest to manage—is climate change. This global phenomenon will leave no region unaffected, the upper Gallatin included.
In southwest Montana, precipitation patterns are expected to shift dramatically—indeed, we are already seeing our snowpack decrease and runoff peak earlier in the season than historic averages.
What does this mean for the river, and how can we build resiliency into our headwaters region? We need to start with simple water conservation—in our homes, in our businesses, and in our industries. Collective action can go a long way toward ensuring our presence does not compromise the health of the Gallatin.