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Middle Fork Flathead River

A floater reels in a 12-inch cutthroat trout from the emerald green water of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River in Montana's Great Bear Wilderness Area in 2012. 

I am the son, grandson and great-grandson of timber men and ranchers in the Flathead Valley. My family came to Montana in the '30s to capitalize on the vast richness of opportunity, to raise a large family and live in a place that was like no other. Earning a living on private and public lands in and around this valley lent itself to free time being spent hunting lands and fishing the rivers and lakes that flow through and dot the landscape.

These years of hunting and fishing created ever-growing generations of outdoor recreation enthusiasts that slowly shaped, evolved and diversified our local economy. My upbringing in this economic culture sculpted me to become a custom knife maker, blacksmith, and a hunting and fishing guide.

Due to living at the confluence of the three forks of the Flathead River system, starting with my father’s generation, our family has grown into passionate fly fishermen and river runners. Our rivers are how we have made our living and are core to our way of life, well-being and happiness.

Luckily, a group of Montana individuals, businesses, sportsmen and conservation organizations have come together to craft federal legislation called the Montana Headwaters Security Act. This bill, if introduced and passed, will designate additional headwaters streams on public lands, in our region and in other areas, including the Smith River and Yellowstone headwaters, as Wild and Scenic Rivers.

While all of us living in the Flathead region have enjoyed the benefits of Wild and Scenic designation on some of our rivers for years — in fact we were some of the first in the country — many folks do not understand what it means. It essentially conserves the streams as they are while not restricting any current access, including grazing rights, fishing, hunting, camping and other recreation. It ensures that water quality is maintained or enhanced. There is no effect on current water rights.

The designation of Wild and Scenic does prohibit development on public land in the future that would harm the free-flowing nature of the river or water quality. This would include projects like dam proposals on or dredging the river. It does not prohibit development on private land within the designated river corridor, but it does encourage state and local land use planning to maintain the character of the river.

I ask you to call or write our congressional delegation — U.S. Sens. Jon Tester (202-224-2644) and Steve Daines (202-224-2651) and U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte (202-225-3211) — to ask them to introduce and support the Montana Headwaters Security Act.

Please share this information with your neighbors, friends and other Montanans. This is a continuation and next step to protect our clean water for all our residents and the future of Montana; it’s critical to our health, agriculture industry, recreation opportunities and our way of life.

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Rick Schmidt is the owner of Schmidt Knives & Forge in Whitefish.

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