Protecting the Lower Yellowstone River

Wild Montana
Photo: Christian Sawicki, Wild Montana
Protecting the Lower Yellowstone River
Wild Montana

The Yellowstone River – the longest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states – is a haven for biodiversity and climate resiliency. In eastern Montana, the riparian areas along the river are comprised of native vegetation, including cottonwood trees, willows, and native grasses that sustain critical habitat for an extensive variety of wildlife. This overlooked region of Montana has experienced substantial economic decline as people move away to seek jobs and amenities unavailable in the area. The upper section of the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley is a popular recreation destination; however, recreation stops east of Billing due to a lack of public access and infrastructure. Similarly, conservation protections for the river further east also cease, leaving sensitive riparian habitat unprotected.

Recognizing an opportunity to protect wildlife habitat, increase recreation opportunities, and boost local economies, Wild Montana brought together community leaders, local citizens, and economic development experts in 2019 to found the Lower Yellowstone River Coalition (LYRC). The group created a vision for the protection of the river and the betterment of their communities. They will prioritize areas high in conservation value and significant public access gaps. At the end of 2023, Wild Montana successfully completed the first acquisition of 328 acres, which will become the North Wildcat Coulee Wildlife Management Area. Over the next four years, this project seeks to acquire 10–15 new public land properties and open a new state park.