East Rosebud Creek

East Rosebud Creek, a tributary of the Stillwater River, flows through the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in south-central Montana. The president has signed the bill to designate East Rosebud Creek as Wild and Scenic.

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A bill to protect a stream in south central Montana has passed the U.S. House, bringing it closer to becoming the first body of water in the state designated as “wild and scenic” in four decades.

The East Rosebud Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, H.R. 4645, passed the U.S. House of Representatives late Tuesday. The measure would protect 20 miles of East Rosebud Creek as a “wild and scenic river,” which would prevent future development of a dam or other structures.

The bill was introduced by Montana’s Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte and is a companion to a separate bill that cleared the Senate last December. Both Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester support the measure.

For the bill to become law, the Senate would have to pass the House version. There’s also a chance the measure could be attached as a rider to another bill. David Moryc, of the conservation group American Rivers, said its clearance of the House is “a really strong signal that this could get done this year.”

It would mark the end of a push that has spanned a decade, starting with landowners rising up against proposals to build hydroelectric dams on the stream, a tributary of the Stillwater River that begins in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.

The state’s delegation celebrated the vote in a joint statement.

“East Rosebud Creek is one of our natural treasures that deserves protection,” Gianforte said in the statement. “This bipartisan bill will ensure generations of Montanans to come will enjoy East Rosebud Creek as much as my family and I have.”

“The finish line is in sight, and we won’t take our foot off the gas until this bill is signed into law so Montana families can fish and float on the East Rosebud for years to come,” Tester said.

“This bipartisan, Montana-driven bill is now one step closer to being signed into law so that this river is protected for future generations to come,” Daines said.

The law that created the designation, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, has existed for 50 years. Portions of the Flathead and Missouri rivers were given the designation in 1976. No stream in Montana has been protected under the act since then.

The push for East Rosebud Creek began in 2009, when a company applied for a permit to build a hydropower project near the outlet of East Rosebud Lake. Landowners and conservation groups opposed the project and started the campaign for permanent protection.

Frank Annighofer, vice president of Friends of East Rosebud, said in a statement that the group appreciates Gianforte’s work in pushing the bill forward.

“The East Rosebud attracts visitors from all over the world, yielding significant economic value to surrounding communities and our state,” he said. “This bill will ensure the East Rosebud stays a special place for generations to come.”

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Michael Wright can be reached at mwright@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2638. Follow him on Twitter @mj_wright1.

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