I remember living along a western river, elk coming down from the mountains, occasional reports of lions and bears in parks and backyards. A paved walking trail ran down a brushy draw from my apartment to downtown, more than a little sketchy after a late night at the bar. Western river corridors are critical for wildlife movement, everything from beavers to bison using riverside galleries of willow and cottonwood to move between ideal habitat. Drop a highway, an oil lease, a strip mall, or a 57 unit “glampground” in the middle, and things go haywire.
The Gallatin is an iconic river of the west, flowing out of Yellowstone National Park and one of the principal headwaters of the Missouri River. It’s a world-class trout fishery, and one of the most intact landscapes in the west, due in large part to significant protections and a conservation ethic among local landowners.
A Bozeman developer has begun permitting for a 57 unit glampground of canvas tents and Conestoga wagons, access roads, water, sewer, power, fiber optic, and gas lines, all within the floodplain of the Gallatin River. Without local zoning or minimum setbacks from the river, and because the proposed structures aren’t permanent, the developer is able to skirt floodplain protections within the area. Its siting arguably works in the proposal’s favor, the floodplain administrator arguing that because floodplain development is restricted, the glampground can’t impact neighboring properties.
The regulatory framework was developed to protect this incredible riverine resource, but doesn’t take into account the fact rivers move and channels migrate. Impacts on wetlands and wildlife habitat are beyond the scope of permitting. Habitat connectivity and migration corridors are not considered. Water quality is not considered. Litter and waste disposal is not considered. Impacts of climate change on the development over time are not considered. Consequences of routing utilities under the river bed aren’t considered. The precedent set by siting development in a floodplain isn’t considered, either.
As the west gets busier, there’s a lot riding on protecting our last wild landscapes- not just for us today, but for everyone who comes after. With so much omitted from analysis, perhaps it’s worth revisiting the regulatory framework.