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Montana Headwaters Legacy Act

Objective: The state of Montana is home to some of the finest rivers in the nation. Montana’s wild, undeveloped waters shape and define the landscape, supporting diverse wildlife, feeding thriving local economies, and providing opportunities for reverence and recreation to residents and visitors alike. From the mighty Yellowstone River to remote backcountry waters like Hellroaring Creek and West Boulder River, Montana’s storied rivers are fundamental to the ecology, economy, and identity of the state.


Thankfully, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act provides a framework for protecting rivers with “outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.” The Montana Headwaters Legacy Act (MHLA) is a key piece of Wild and Scenic legislation; a made-in-Montana bill that, when passed, will protect 385 river miles across 20 of the state’s most iconic waterways.

The Greater Yellowstone Coalition’s work on the MHLA is deeply collaborative and community centered. Alongside our partners at Wild Livelihoods, American Rivers, American Whitewater, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the Gallatin River Task Force, and a diverse array of community members, business leaders, and river advocates, we are members of an alliance called Montanans for Healthy Rivers. This alliance was formed in 2010 and continues to be a powerful, collaborative force for river advocacy across Montana.


The MHLA has support from roughly 80 percent of Montana voters, and direct endorsements from over 1,000 Montana businesses and 3,000 Montana individuals. The bill is sponsored by Senator Jon Tester, who has twice introduced it in the U.S. Senate. Yet despite the MHLA’s broad support with the people of Montana, the increasingly partisan nature of Montana politics – even on traditionally bipartisan or nonpartisan issues like conservation – means that the bill has yet to secure definitive support from the entire Montana delegation in congress.

If this effort is new to you, below is a short video that provides more details. Consider adding your business to the list of businesses who are letting their legislators know about their support of this proposed federal legislation.

Show Your Business Support to Your Legislators

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Economic Impact of Legislative Decisions

Local businesses care about how Montana and the Federal Government manages wildlife, public lands and rivers...because it not only impacts our tax-paying businesses but it impacts where we call home. Tourism is a large part of our local economy as some of the below data demonstrates:

  • One and only year-round driving entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

  • 22% of all labor income fueled by travel, tourism and recreation.

  • Park County alone generates roughly $500,000,000 in tourism revenue annually. To put that in perspective, all of Park County's annual agricultural revenue runs at about $34,000,000 ($24m in livestock and $10m in crops). Based on the 2021 estimated predation losses (of all kinds), less than .075 percent of that revenue was lost to predation.

  • Lodging/accommodation wages and revenue are the largest economic category in our region. Lodging tax revenue for Park County, driven in large part to Yellowstone National Park visitation, in 2021 generated almost $3,400,000 for Montana's general fund, various heritage programs and recreational use programs, including FWP. 

  • Small business proprietors (or self-employment) represents a significant portion of all employment in Park County, accounting for 39% of all jobs in 2014.  This has grown over the last decade from about one-third of all jobs before 2000 and this growth has been entirely among non-farm proprietors.  Statewide in Montana proprietors accounted for 27% of all jobs in 2014, up only slightly from 26% in 2000. 

  • A 2017 survey of non-resident tourists visiting Montana shows the time spent on various activities ranked as:

    • 56% Scenic driving

    • 36% Day hiking

    • 34% Wildlife watching

    • 29% Nature photography

    • 26% Camping

    • 24% Recreational shopping

    • 19% Visiting other historical sites

    • 17% Visiting local brewery

    • 12% Visiting museums

    • 12% Visiting Lewis & Clark sites

    • 9% Fishing / Fly Fishing

  • As the rate of tourism goes up or down, which business/retail categories categories are impacted the most (ranked in descending order according to the State Department of Commerce expenditure categories):

    • Gasoline Outlets (e.g. Town Pump)

    • Restaurant & Bars

    • Hotel & Motel

    • Outfitter & Guides

    • Retail Sales

    • Grocery Stores

    • Auto Rentals

    • Rental Lodging

    • Campground & RV Parks

    • Vehicle Repairs

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