River Report Cards



Landscapes and waterways of Southwest and West‐Central Montana are changing. Population growth, evolving land uses, and climate change are affecting local fisheries and water quality from the main‐stem Missouri to headwaters in the Big Hole. These threats affect the 25,000 sq. miles of the Upper Missouri River Basin and, in turn, require a proportional management response.

Not many people know that some of the most beloved rivers in SW Montana are at the top of a slippery-slope. Scientific monitoring required by law has shown these rivers are suffering from the adage, “death by a thousand cuts.” Sometimes a river has unnaturally high temperatures that hurt fish spawning. Sometimes there is too much nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment in a river and harmful algae blooms happen in the summer. Sometimes a river’s natural resiliency is destroyed because its wetlands, riparian buffers, and floodplains have been destroyed and built out. Sometimes a river has all these problems.

Our Report Card Project is focused on finding the most effective methods for protecting the 8, critical headwater rivers of the Upper Mo from the negative impacts that population growth, land use transformation, and climate change entail. Specifically, we intend to adequate identify flow regimes, fishery population and pollution trends, and at-risk habitat with the goal of improving river management plans on these 8 rivers. No conservation organization, or state or federal agency, has ever conducted such a planning‐ focused protection project for Montana’s Upper Missouri River Basin.

Our action plan includes: (1) review of existing river management and pollution control plans under state and federal law for our 8 rivers and identification of gaps in knowledge or protections; (2) collection and analysis of river flow and ambient water quality data as related to climate change patterns for our 8 rivers; (3) assessment of fishery population data against land use changes and pollution data to identify at‐risk habitat; and last, (4) aggregation of these datasets with the goal of identifying key management practices necessary to protecting and improving water quality and fisheries health in the 8 rivers of Montana’s Upper Missouri River Basin.

Our project’s goal is improving river and pollution management planning that affects water quality and fisheries health in 8 of Montana’s best rivers. We believe Report Card’s are “successful” if we are able to complete the necessary scientific inquiries to identify key management techniques that will address the negative effects of population growth, land use transformation and climate change, and in turn use that data to elevate the policy dialogue and need for any new management foci.