BOZEMAN, Mont. -- U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., has announced legislation to conserve some of Montana's most iconic rivers. The Montana Headwaters Legacy Act would protect 336 miles of waterway in the Custer-Gallatin and Helena-Lewis and Clark national forests, including parts of the Gallatin, Madison and Smith rivers. Tester announced the bill on the banks of the Gallatin River near Bozeman.

"If we don't do things about it today -- smart things, not crazy things, just smart things -- to help protect these resources moving forward, they won't be here," he said. "They won't be here for our kids, they won't be here for our grandkids."

The bill would protect the waterways as part of the National Wild and Scenic River System. It's the culmination of a years-long effort by the coalition Montanans for Healthy Rivers, which has rallied the support of more than 1,000 businesses and 3,000 individuals in Montana who back the legislation.

Scott Bosse, Northern Rockies director for American Rivers and co-founder of Montanans for Healthy Rivers, said he spoke to people this year while floating the Smith River.

"I saw more Montanans on our rivers than ever before, and I talked to people about what brought them to the river that day, why they're here," he said, "and everyone said, 'You know, this coronavirus pandemic has been brutal on all of us, and this is the place where we come for refuge.'"

In 2018, East Rosebud Creek was designated Wild and Scenic, the first such designation in Montana in more than 40 years. Fewer than 400 of Montana's 170,000 miles of river are protected as Wild and Scenic -- about 0.2% of the state's total river miles.

More information on the legislation is online at healthyriversmt.org, and a list of Montana's designated Wild and Scenic Rivers is at rivers.gov.

- by Eric Tegethoff, Big Sky News Service -