LIVING SHORELINES!!! by Montana Grant
By angelamontana

Posted: February 11, 2024

Watersheds in Montana are being used and loved to death. People are buying watershed property before any other land. Once they have it, the grass gets mowed up to the shorelines, trees get cut to open the views, and rock gabions try to keep their land from washing away. 

Nature knows best! Look at the healthiest shorelines and what do you notice? Trees, grasses, roots, and natural structures that have protected these waters edges for centuries. Roots hold the land in place, shade provides shade to keep the waters cool, grasses add soil support and habitat for fish food and wildlife. As soon as these are removed, erosion begins. 

Water from developed areas also needs to be moved along gutters, sewers, and drains. Once the water hits these smooth, impervious surfaces, it speeds up. Once it leaves these raceways, it quickly erodes anything in its path, like a firehose. 

The thing about an ecosystem is that everything is connected. You can’t change one thing without changing another. Usually, human intervention is damaging and wrong. The changes made to one shore impact all shorelines downstream. 

When we look at Montana’s Rivers, we can see that they are lined with vacation homes, farm fields, and exposed rocks. Each Spring a runoff of melted snowmelt slams into these areas. If there are no beaver dams, rooted trees and plants, or natural structures to slow the water down, it will destroy the shorelines. Now silt and debris will litter the scarred watershed. 

The Bighole has become one of these desolate shorelines. Farmers plow along the banks, cattle graze along the banks and in the rivers. Homeowners have removed natural vegetation and mowed the remaining grass along the bank. In place of natural roots and erosion barriers, fenceposts now line the exposed banks, where trespassing is a sin. 

If the private property was fenced 100 feet back from the high-water mark, there would be no questions about where anglers can walk. Perhaps an easement fee could be used to protect the water’s edge and keep anglers safe and off any private land. 

Fish habitat is gone, shade is rare, waters are warmer, more homes and buildings line the banks, and the Living Shoreline is dying. Irrigators pump the rivers dry. Trout are just expendable. 

It would be great if Montana Legislators passed a law that protected the Living Shorelines. The fishing access law is a start. It allows anglers to access waters below the high-water marks, so they can fish. Maybe protect 100 feet of Shoreline from any development to protect the fish, wildlife, and watershed. Perhaps these watershed areas need to become public domain protected arteries to keep the wildlife alive. There is no sense to have a fisherman access law if the fishery is dead.

Live along our shorelines gently!

Montana Grant

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