Conservation dollars make Blackfoot legendary once again

Above: Blackfoot River/Nate Shepard

Here’s some fish film trivia for you:

When shooting “A River Runs Through It,” producers passed on filming on the Blackfoot River, the setting chosen by the book’s author Norman Maclean. Instead, they filmed on the Yellowstone and Gallatin Rivers near Bozeman.

Why? Back then, the Blackfoot was a mess.

Mine pollution, poor grazing practices, overfishing, runoff from highways, forest clearcutting, and dewatering caused chronic problems across this iconic 132-mile-river.

But fast forward 25 years, and the Blackfoot is on the rise due largely in part to the hard work of Montana Trout Unlimited, Blackfoot valley ranchers and landowners, local agencies and the $15 million in funds dedicated to restoring this place that inspired a thousand casts.

Unfortunately, those funds are now in limbo with recent budget proposals put forth by the Trump Administration.

[Stand up for conservation funding]

Ryen Neudecker, restoration coordinator for Montana Trout Unlimited’s Big Blackfoot Chapter, says federal funds help unlock doors for raising thousands of additional dollars – dollars necessary to complete the projects that help clean up places like the Blackfoot.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and Future Fisheries funding have been some of the most critical sources of funding in the Blackfoot, and have been for the last 30 years,” Neudecker said in a recent article in The Missoulian. The administration has proposed cutting this fund by 8%.

Those cuts are just the beginning. Overall, agencies like the EPA and Department of the Interior are expected to receive massive budget reductions causing impacts that will trickle down to local economies.

Added Neudecker, “We estimate in the last 20 years, there have been 223 jobs created. That’s the restoration economy that’s tied to small communities. We’re hiring local. We’re buying headgates and pipe and fish screens from people right here in the valley.”

And that’s just one project. Multiply that across thousands of projects in dozens of states and it becomes a thriving economy all built on the idea of righting the wrongs of the past and ensuring safe air and water for the future.

Seems like a dollar well spent.

Plus, maybe Maclean is right. Maybe things do eventually all merge into one. And if a river runs through it, let’s make the necessary investments to make it pristine.

[Stand up for conservation funding]

By Shauna Stephenson. Shauna Stephenson has been a writer, photographer, communicator and conservationist for nearly two decades, the past decade being spent at Trout Unlimited, working on projects…