Unique river easement OK’d by Fish and Wildlife Commission

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Billings, Mont. (February 12, 2016) –

The Fish and Wildlife Commission on Thursday unanimously approved a first-of-its-kind channel migration easement allowing the Yellowstone River to roam, though concerns of how it may affect a downstream user almost stalled the proposal.

The easement, approved at the commission’s meeting in Helena, will release funds from Western Area Power Administration to pay the Navratil family in Richland County not to rip-rap the bank on 89.5 acres of their property along the Yellowstone.

“This is just one of a whole bunch of pearls we plan to string together” along the Yellowstone, said Tom Hinz, of Montana Aquatic Resources Services, which has facilitated the easement along with the Montana Land Reliance, which would hold the easement.

A hearing held last month in Sidney to discuss the easement drew a variety of public opposition. Among them was the concern from an adjacent downstream landowner’s lessee who was concerned that erosion of the Navratil property could harm a ditch the lessee used for irrigation.

With that in mind, Fish, Wildlife and Parks backed off its original proposal to pass the agenda item until it could discuss the lessee’s concerns. But that prompted disapproval from people attending the meeting and some commissioners.

“This is a private property rights issue,” said Kendall Van Dyk, representing MLR, and others echoed that statement.

Tourtlotte said denying the easement was “ridiculous,” calling the easement the Navratil family’s legacy that FWP should respect.

“It should be done because it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

The easement passed unanimously with commission chairman Dan Vermillion recusing himself because of his association with the Montana Land Reliance as a board member.

Allowing the river to roam is seen as a natural process that adds silt and nutrients to the river that keep it healthy and also benefit native fish species like the endangered pallid sturgeon. The cost of the easement was valued at $69,000, 25 to 30 percent of the fair market value.

According to the environmental assessment prepared by FWP, “more than 226 miles of the Yellowstone have been hardened or armored to date.” About 540 miles of the Yellowstone runs through Montana.

 

Source: Billings Gazette