Another Blow to Montana’s Rivers, Clean Water, and Fish – Gianforte’s FWP Drifts Away From Science

Governor Gianforte’s Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) Director Hank Worsech has announced a shift in the direction the agency will take in the coming years, including moving away from long-term scientific research and inexplicably putting important fish restoration projects on hold.

The Billings Gazette reported FWP plans to “shift its research program toward short-term, in-house efforts after a decade of ambitious work helped make it a world-renowned scientific contributor.” According to FWP Wildlife Chief of Staff Quentin Kujala, “things longer than a (college student’s) master’s project” are considered long-term projects and will be omitted from FWP’s future research endeavors.

And to the fish restoration projects put on hold, it is the definition of a solution in search of a problem. As reported in the Missoula Current, FWP Commissioner Pat Byorth clearly laid out the issue, “To stall out these projects – that are very expensive, involve extensive planning, an investment of not only department dollars but an investment of outfitters, business people, landowners, all kinds of agencies all getting together, building this collaborative process and then have them interrupted right at the key moment – does not seem to be grounded in policy or statute. It seems to be political.”

Not surprisingly, Governor Gianforte-appointed Director Worsech’s direction for FWP is following the Governor’s lead and direction by straying from science, threatening our cold water fisheries – the lifeblood of Montana’s growing outdoor economy – that supports countless jobs and businesses that depend on clean water. On April 30, Governor Gianforte signed Senate Bill 358 into law, the dirtiest water bill from this year’s Legislative Session that repeals numeric nutrient water quality standards that protect most Montana waterways from algal blooms and degradation and significantly expands exemptions for pollution discharges to our waterways.

Instead of working to implement science-based planning and progressive infrastructure upgrades to wastewater treatment plants, our Governor has removed accountability measures for the state’s largest point=source polluters, making it loud and clear that bottom lines of industrial polluters are more important than the health of Montana’s rivers and our communities. Gianforte’s signature on SB 358 made Montana the only state in the nation to reactively and unlawfully repeal proven science-based numeric water quality standards for polluters, threatening human health, our waterways, and Montana’s $7.1 billion outdoor economy that supports 71,000 jobs.

“Montana’s unique and sensitive world-class fisheries are already plagued by seasonal, noxious neon-green algal blooms caused by prioritizing economic gains over the health of our waterways, clean drinking water supplies, and recreational havens,” said Guy Alsentzer, Executive Director. “We should be letting science guide the process to protecting our fish and wildlife, not throwing it out the window all together. Scientific research tells us how to best protect our natural resources from degradation, and it’s wildly irresponsible to disregard the role science plays in protecting Montana’s last, best places.”

Between an extreme drought season, low river flows, above average temperatures, irresponsible growth and pressure, historically low fish counts, and now our State agencies and elected-officials stepping away from science, research, and restoration projects that protect our waterways, Montana’s rivers are under serious threat, and are losing.

Montanans – our rivers and communities deserve better than this. Too much is at stake to give up now. Join us in the fight to use strong science, community action, and the law to defend fishable, swimmable, drinkable water for all.