Big Hole River

Big Hole River

The Big Hole River is a tributary of the Jefferson River, approximately 153 miles (246 km) long, in southwestern Montana in the United States. It rises in Skinner lake in the Beaverhead National Forest in the Beaverhead Mountains of the Bitterroot Range at the continental divide along the Montana-Idaho border in western Beaverhead County. It flows northwest and north, past Wisdom and between the Anaconda Range to the northwest and the Pioneer Mountains to the east. It flows around the north end of the Pioneer Mountains, then southeast, past the town of Wise River, Montana, where it is joined by the Wise River. Near Glen, Montana it turns northeast and joins the Beaverhead river near Twin Bridges to form the Jefferson.

The river is an historically popular destination for fly fishing, especially for trout. It is the last habitat in the contiguous United States for native Fluvial Arctic Grayling. [FWS (2004). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Species Assessment and Listing Priority Assignment Form for fluvial Arctic grayling (distinct population segment of the Upper Missouri River), commonly called Montana Arctic grayling. November 30, 2004.] Historic conflicts between ranchers in the valley who depend on the river for irrigation and recreationalists have been mitigated through the creation of the Big Hole River Watershed Committee (1995). Unfortunately, the river is still badly and chronically dewatered by irrigators who have legal rights to water use. [ [ Wading Through Montana Water Rights] ] Though their Drought Management Plan is a model effort of cooperation between ranchers and recreationalists in the valley to preserve the watershed for all concerned, the "trigger" levels in the plan are well below biologically-based ("lower wetted perimeter") levels needed to restore the now nearly extirpated Big Hole River grayling. [ [ BHWC Drought Management Plan] ] After years of debate by all interests in the Big Hole watershed, in April 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the Fluvial Arctic Grayling from Endangered Species candidacy, which has resulted in a lawsuit by The Center for Biological Diversity and other interested parties. [ [ CBD Press Release] ]

The river is a Class I water from the Fishtrap fishing access site downstream from Wisdon to its confluence with the Jefferson river for the purposes of public access for recreational purposes [ [ Stream Access in Montana] ] .


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2000] At the time Lewis & Clark "discovered" the Big Hole River watershed, it was a buffer zone between several rival Native American tribes including the Nez Perce, Shoshone, Salish, and Blackfeet. Lewis & Clark considered navigating up the Big Hole River, but chose the slower-flowing Beaverhead River instead. Trappers from both the Hudson's Bay Company, the North West Company and the American Fur Company exploited the region from about 1810 to the 1840s. Miners and homesteaders settled the area between 1864 and the early 1900s.

In 1877 the U.S. troops under John Gibbon fought the Nez Percé Indians along the Big Hole River, during the Nez Perce War.

The establishment of Butte, Montana as a mining center and the coming of the Northern Railroad in 1871 assured Big Hole ranchers and farmers of a steady market for their beef, horses, mules, hay and dairy products. As a great improvement for preserving the wild hay for winter feeding of cattle, Herbert S. Armitage and Dade J. Stephens patented the "Sunny Slope Slide Stacker" in 1909. This device, commonly known as a "beaverslide" remained popular until the 1990s, when it was largely displaced by mechanized equipment for producing large round bales.

In the early 1960s, the US Bureau of Reclamation proposed building the Reichle Dam near the town of Glen along the Big Hole River. Conservationist George F. Grant, Trout Unlimited and local ranchers combined forces to oppose the dam, successfully defeating the proposal in 1967.

Today, fewer than 2500 people inhabit the 2,800 square mile (7,250 km²) Big Hole River watershed.

Angling The Big Hole

are also prevalent in the river. In the 1980s, the state of Montana began stopping general stocking of all Montana rivers. The last hatchery fish were stocked in the Big Hole in 1990. [cite book |last=Munday |first=Pat |title=Montana's Last Best River: The Big Hole & its People |year=2001 |publisher=Lyons Press |location=Guilford, CT |isbn=1585743313 |pages=108 ] Dozens of guides, outfitters and fishing lodges offer guided fishing on the Big Hole and its tributaries.


* The Big Hole River Foundation-- To understand, preserve, and enhance the free flowing character of the Big Hole River and to protect its watershed, culture, community and excellent wild trout fishery. [ [ The Big Hole River Foundation Website] ]
* The Big Hole River Watershed Committee-- The Big Hole Watershed Committee (BHWC) was formed in 1995 by several Big Hole ranchers and conservationists who feared an ESA listing for fluvial Arctic grayling. The Watershed Committee has reached out to local and selected interested entities and developed a viable community-based consensus group that has won the trust and respect to forge solutions to difficult problems that will impact the river today and tomorrow. Sadly, the committee has precluded activist voices such as the Center for Biological Diversity and the Montana Wildlife Federation.
* The Center for Biological Diversity – Combining conservation biology with litigation, policy advocacy, and an innovative strategic vision, the Center for Biological Diversity is working to secure a future for animals and plants hovering on the brink of extinction, for the wilderness they need to survive, and by extension for the spiritual welfare of generations to come. [ [ Center for Biological Diversity website] ]
* Western Watersheds Project – The mission of Western Watersheds Project is to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives and litigation [ [ Western Watersheds Project website] ]
* Trout Unlimited – Trout Unlimited's mission is to conserve, protect and restore North America's coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. [ [ Trout Unlimited website] ]
* Montana River Action - The clean flowing waters of Montana belong to the people and are held in trust by the State for a pollution-free healthful environment guaranteed by our Montana Constitution. Montana River Action's mission is to protect and restore rivers, streams and other water bodies. [ [ Montana River Action Website] ]


* Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (1995). "Measuring Devices on the Big Hole River" (Helena, Montana: Department of Natural Resources & Conservation).


ee also

* Battle of Big Hole
* Pat Munday
* George F. Grant
* List of rivers of Montana
* Montana Stream Access Law

External links

* [ Big Hole River Journal]
* [ Big Hole River Watershed]
* [ EcoRover blog about the Big Hole River watershed]
* [ Pat Munday's rating of Big Hole Watershed Committee effectivness in Big Hole River grayling restoration]

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