Year of Award


Document Type

Professional Paper

Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Resource Conservation

Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Jill Belsky

Commitee Members

David Shively, Martin Nie


compact, reserved water rights, reserved water rights compact agreement, United States Forest Service, water, water rights


University of Montana


A unique opportunity exists to create instream water rights on national forest lands in Montana as a result of the US Forest Service Reserved Water Rights Compact between the US Forest Service (USFS) and the state of Montana, which went into law in 2007. Instream water rights on national forest lands are important because they have the potential to protect streamflows that support many vital ecosystem functions in our forests from water development pressures. Montana Trout Unlimited has an interest in advancing and accelerating this effort by providing stream recommendations to the USFS for the establishment of future water rights. The primary purposes of this paper are to offer recommendations to Montana Trout Unlimited for streams in Montana that would benefit the most from a US Forest Service instream water right and why, to develop an effective process for doing so, and to identify how Montana Trout Unlimited can help in this larger effort. Through the solicitation of stream recommendations from biologists and fisheries manager across the state and the development of a ranking worksheet to prioritize these recommendations, the final product of this research was a ranked stream list to help guide future efforts to establish USFS instream water rights. The USFS need to act on these recommendations and increase their investment in this effort before new water development pressures adjacent to national forests occur. Establishing water rights will enable the USFS to be a legal stakeholder in the water resources on national forest lands in Montana and ensure the long term health of our forests in the state.