If we’ve learned one thing in western Montana over the past four years, it’s that the next megaload headline is never far off.
Sure enough, the 40-year-old nonprofit American Rivers today released its annual report detailing the 10 most endangered rivers in the country. The Clearwater and Lochsa rivers made this year’s list as a pair, with the key threat being what many have feared since Imperial Oil first proposed shipping hundreds of megaloads up Highway 12: industrialization of a designated Wild and Scenic corridor.
Rivers in the region have fallen on American Rivers’ lists before. Northwest Montana’s Kootenai River was singled out last year due to threats from potential mining activity, as the North Fork of the Flathead had in 2009. Floodplain development landed the Upper Yellowstone a spot in the report in 2006. The Clearwater-Lochsa listing in particular stands out. Unlike the other endangered rivers in 2014, the threat to this corridor is unrelated to outdated management or facilities, new diversion features or polluted runoff. The Clearwater-Lochsa is suffering from the simple fact that there’s a highway running its length—a highway that corporate executives are keen on using to connect western ports to the continent’s development-rich middle.
“Since 2010, a coalition of local citizens, conservation groups, and the Nez Perce Tribe have fought successfully to preserve the intrinsic values of the river corridor," American Rivers states. "To date, these efforts have blocked over 225 megaloads while less than 15 have traversed the river corridor. While generally successful in the short term, the overall threat has not diminished.”
American Rivers has now amped up the pressure on the Clearwater National Forest, bolstering calls for Forest Service officials to firmly and definitively come out against megaload traffic. “The Forest Service must take responsibility for management of this Wild and Scenic corridor,” the report concludes, “and ban the shipment of megaloads along Highway 12.”