Grassroots awareness campaign nears victory for permanent protection of Paradise Valley, Yellowstone River

Above: the Paradise Valley along Yellowstone National Park’s northern border is considered to be one of America’s most pristine and picturesque landscapes.

Northern Plains successfully pressures Montana congressional delegation to pass Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act

Written by Northern Plains.

The Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act, drafted by Senator Jon Tester, was passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday after a House version introduced by Representative Greg Gianforte passed out of the Committee on Natural Resources last week. The bill will now go to the full House and Senate. If adopted into law, the legislation will permanently protect over 30,000 acres of national forest in Paradise Valley, just north of Yellowstone National Park, from mining – specifically by ending mineral leasing.

yellowstone park at risk
For decades, Paradise Valley has been threatened by mining. This may be the opportunity to permanently protect it.

“We commend Senator Tester for creating this bill to protect Montana’s greatest assets,” said Sabina Strauss, a Northern Plains member, longtime business owner, and resident of Gardiner. “Once introduced, Northern Plains members immediately recognized this as a historic opportunity to permanently protect Paradise Valley as well as the local jobs and businesses that depend on keeping this pristine and beautiful region unspoiled. Just as importantly, we understand that farmers and ranchers downstream from the Yellowstone gateway rely on clean water from the Yellowstone River to maintain their livelihoods.”

The legislation was originally introduced by Senator Tester in April of 2017, and the House version was adopted by Representative Gianforte in December of 2017. Senator Steve Daines, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee responsible for this type of legislation, held on to the bill for over year without bringing it up for a vote. This delay prompted Northern Plains Resource Council, a grassroots conservation and family agriculture organization, to generate an awareness campaign across the state.

“We assumed this would be a no-brainer for all members of Montana’s congressional delegation,” continued Strauss, “but Senator Daines inexplicably stalled this legislation in his own committee for well over a year. In an effort to break this logjam, Northern Plains members got the word out to tens of thousands of Montanans through letters to the editor, social media campaigns, newspaper ads, and hundreds of direct communications to Daines’ office. We’re extremely proud that all of this hard work finally paid off, and we’re overjoyed that Paradise Valley and the Yellowstone River downstream are poised to get the permanent protection needed to ensure the economic viability of ag producers and other business owners across Montana.”

Northern Plains members got the word out to tens of thousands of Montanans through letters to the editor, social media campaigns, newspaper ads, and hundreds of direct communications to Daines’ office.

A Department of Interior order protecting this area for two years, originally issued by former secretary Sally Jewell, is set to expire in late November of this year. With that deadline looming, the area’s future remained unclear. Former Montana congressman and current Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has made no public declarations as to whether he would extend the protection for any length of time, including the maximum 20 years available to him. Adopting the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act into law would render that question moot, offering permanent legislative protection to the region.

“This latest victory in Paradise Valley takes me right back to the founding principles that Northern Plains established almost half a century ago,” says Northern Plains chair, Becky Mitchell. “We have always worked from the premise that when ordinary Montanans organize themselves at the grassroots level, they can achieve extraordinary things. We can now add the permanent protection of Paradise Valley and the Yellowstone River downstream to other historic grassroots victories like preserving the Tongue River and protecting precious lands in south-central Montana through the Good Neighbor Agreement. Northern Plains members across our state have once again shown that the wisest decisions about our future are best made by everyday Montanans.”

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