Guest Column: Wildfires, watersheds and WSAs

Guest Column: Wildfires, watersheds and WSAs

News Type: State Source: Missoulian
Click here to read the article: https://missoulian.com/opinion/columnists/wildfires-watersheds-and-wsas/article_4c3fa59c-5415-5fd9-b5e7-9b97473a04a3.html

Throughout the continuing public arguments regarding U.S. Forest Service travel plans, backcountry management and in particular, Wilderness Study Areas, the critical component of water and its timing of flow downstream have been ignored. This is an oversight that Montana cannot afford.

Management of watersheds “for the purpose of securing favorable conditions of water flows” was a primary purpose of the establishment of the Forest Service within its 1897 Organic Act that the Supreme Court reaffirmed in U.S. v New Mexico in 1978. Burnt-out headwaters release water, along with sediment, far too early in the spring. These early runoffs do not benefit fish, irrigators or downstream cities like Missoula, St. Louis or New Orleans. Continued water flows in late summer and fall should be the goal.

Just last year, the Montana Climate Initiative, based in Montana State University and the University of Montana, warned of the need for Montana agriculture to anticipate shifting crops and schedules for seeding and harvest due to timing changes and unavailability of late-summer irrigation water. Likewise, Montana’s premiere recreational fishing industry experienced fishing closures due to elevated water temperatures that again, were caused by low late season water flows.