Guest editorial: Lower Yellowstone Proposal is Something to be Proud of

This article originally appeared in the Billings Gazette.


The job of an elected official is simple: to represent the interests of our constituents. This simple principle guides everything we do, which makes it exciting when we can support and advance a project that benefits every member of our communities.


The Lower Yellowstone River Coalition’s vision for Eastern Montana’s Lower Yellowstone River is such a project, and I’m proud to stand behind it.


While it’s been important to our livelihoods and way of life for generations, the Lower Yellowstone is still Eastern Montana’s most underutilized resource. For over 175 miles between Hysham and the North Dakota border, the river is difficult to access, making it hard for recreationists like anglers, boaters, and campers to make the most of it.


With support from Governor Gianforte, legislators worked hard during Montana’s 2021 legislative session to secure a $4 million investment in public access, recreation, and habitat projects all along the river corridor. This investment can help us improve and maintain boat ramps and access roads, build safe portage trails and signage, and establish campsites, restrooms, and potable water sources in key areas along the river while protecting and respecting private property.


From day one, this project has been about strengthening Eastern Montana’s communities, supporting local businesses, and enhancing the outdoor way of life that makes Eastern Montana so special. It’s been shaped by input from local river users at every step, and it will continue to be guided by the people who know, love, and depend on the Lower Yellowstone.


To make sure this is the case, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, sponsored by Gov. Gianforte, has convened an advisory committee of Eastern Montana residents to guide the project’s development and make sure that it suits the needs of all of us who know and use the Lower Yellowstone.


The governor said it best in FWP’s announcement of the committee: “The Lower Yellowstone is a unique Montana treasure with some of our most important agriculture lands, thriving rural communities and amazing hunting and fishing opportunities. We’re looking to engage a broad cross-section of people passionate about this area on how best to move forward with protecting habitat and our local working lands while providing more public access and stimulating these local economies.”


Couldn’t agree more.


This is the right way to approach once-in-a-lifetime opportunities: with the future of our communities guiding us every step of the way. Eastern Montana residents should play a leading role in deciding just how to make these historic investments in the Lower Yellowstone corridor to help maintain what we love about our region and build a prosperous future for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.


I hope you’ll join me in supporting the citizen’s advisory committee as it looks into potential ways to better utilize the Lower Yellowstone. The committee held its first meeting on August 26, and will continue to meet throughout the fall before sharing its findings near the end of this year.


A better Lower Yellowstone will benefit all of us. Easier public access will allow us to enjoy the incredible fishing, boating, floating, and camping that the river offers. It will protect private property by directing river users to well-regulated and carefully maintained access points. It will encourage visitors to come, stay, and spend money at local businesses, and it will encourage people who love our towns - particularly those who grew up in Eastern Montana - to come back, stay, and bring Montana values with them.


That’s a plan, and a future, that we’re proud to stand behind.


Representative Geraldine Custer lives in Forsyth, MT