Big Hole Legacy Project

Big Hole River 325
Beaverhead 920

Greetings from the Big Hole Watershed Committee. I am Noorjahan Parwana, dierctor of the BHWC. Al wa s kind enough to offer me the opportunity to make a posting on this site. My discovery of this little gem of a website was serendipetous. Based on a recommendation from someone who will remain nameless, I called Al and asked if he would be the “fall guy” as part of the BHWC Drought Plan. Al very amiably agreed to help us with this thankless task and we appreciate it.

The Drought Plan is one of the first accomplishments of the Big Hole Watershed Committtee, which formed eleven years ago in response to concerns about chronic low flows. Under the Drought Plan, temperature and flow triggers instigate news releases and a phone tree asking irrigators and anglers to help restore flows and reduce stress to fish. Al is now one of the main branches on that phone tree. I hope we can keep him on board. Thanks Al.

One of the wonderful outcomes of the creation of the Drought Plan has been the sense of trust and mutual respect folks concerned about the Big Hole have developed. We make our decisions by consensus . We may not all agree on everything, but most people can agree on most things and pull togethr to craft solutions tothose problems we are all concerned about. It is an inspiration to watch the whole process in action.

Over the years, the BHWC has played a leading role in so many of the improtant efforts that keeps the Big Hole River such a beautiful and vibrant place for ranching and recreation. One of our biggest efforts right now is the implementation of habitat restoration projects dedicated to restoring habitat in the Big Hole River for grayling and wild trout. With the active support form landowners, healthier stream channel morphology (pools, width to depth rations, etc) will be restored; important spawning and thermal refuge areas in tributaries will be reconnected to the mainstem; riparian and shrub will provide shade and cover; and fencing and new irrigatin infrastructure will provide landowners better control over livestock and water management.

Our successful strategies have been recognized by Montana’s congressional delegation which resulted in funding of projects over the last couple of years. In 2003, we leveraged $200,000 into more than $500,000 of habitat restoration and water management projects. We will dedicate over $300,000 to habitat projects in the year ahead. And as Al pointed out in a recent posting, an additional $1.6 million has been committed to achieve our restoration goals.

If anyone is interested in following our progress or learn more about the Big Hole Watershed Committee, I would be happy to provide you with additional information. We are just about to mail out our first newsletter. I would be happpy to send it out to anyone who is interested. Simply get in touch with me at or call me at (406)782-3682. I will make sure you get on our mailing list. Our web address is

I appreciate the chance to let folks know about the Big Hole Watershed Committee. I hope we will be hearing from you. Happy fishing. Thanks Al.


  1. Great information. Thanks Noorjahan. I’ve taken the liberty and made clickable links out of your website address on this post. I hope this entry generates interest and ultimately, support for what you are trying to accomplish. Good luck.


    First of all, the flow levels set by the Drought Plan are based on political expediency and NOT on biological criteria. We could maintain the Drought Plan flows, and grayling will continue to slide toward extinction.

    Secondly, the Watershed Committee cannot even maintain the pitifully low Drought Plan targets–even in a year with above average precipitation. Again and again, year after year, flows have slipped below levels that will sustain grayling in the vital Wisdom reach of the river.

    Yes, it is very nice that the Drought Plan has created a “feel good” atmosphere. But despite all the Watershed Committee’s “best” efforts, Big Hole grayling have edged closer and closer to extinction.

    It’s plain and simple:The Watershed Committee’s Drought Plan has FAILED to protect, conserve, and restore Big Hole grayling. In fact, because of the sense of complacency and “feel good” generated by the Drought Plan, I would argue that it has ACCELERATED THE EXTINCTION OF BIG HOLE GRAYLING.

    I do not make these criticisms lightly. I was a supporter of the Watershed Committee from its inception, and served many years as the Big Hole River Foundation’s representative to the Watershed Committee.

    Two straws broke this camel’s back: (1) The Watershed Committee recently incorporated as a 501(c)3 organization, and ceased to be the grassroots ground-up group that it had been. Instead, decisions are now made by a select group of officers in closed meetings, and then presented as “fait accompli” to the general membership of the committee; and (2) the Watershed Committee has refused to modify its Drought Plan using the scientifically-based Wetted Perimeter data that fisheries biologists say is necessary to maintain and recover Big Hole grayling.

    Thank you.

    Pat Munday
    723 W Daly St
    Walkerville MT 59701

  3. Do not be fooled: THE WATERSHED COMMITTEE’S DROUGHT PLAN IS A FAILURE. Year after year, despite the committee’s “best” efforts, it has not been able to meet the very minimal flows specified in its plan. Even in a year with above average precipitation (e.g. 2006) the Drought Plan has failed–especially during that critical period in the Wisdom reach during grayling spawning and emergence.

    Furthermore, the flow levels specified in the Drought Plan are based on political expediency, and not on biological criteria.

    While it is easy to paint the Drought Plan as a “social” or “feel good” success, SHOW ME THE MONEY: i.e., graph out the river flow levels month-by-month and year-by-year, and look at the large proportion of time when river flow levels are way below Drought Plan targets.

    Please note that I do not engage in this criticism lightly: Since its inception in 1995, I supported the Watershed Committee; and, for many years, I was the Big Hole River Foundation’s ( representative to the committee.

    Two events, however, made me critical of the Watershed Committee: (1) the group recently incorporated, and since that time the officers have largely called the shots; these decisions are then presented as “fait accompli” to the general membership, without consensus discussion & approval; and (2) the group refused to adopt biologically-based “Wetted Perimeter” flow targets in the Drought Plan; instead, the group insists on sticking with the politically expedient levels set years ago.

    Fisheries biologists tell us that the flow levels used by the Watershed Committee will insure the continued decline and extinction of Big Hole grayling. The group could and should do better. For example, why not use the big money in earmark appropriations from US Senator Conrad Burns to lease water? As several irrigators told the Watershed Committee in “emergency” drought meetings two years ago: “If you want water, then pay us for it.” Seems fair to me.

    While it’s true that the Watershed Committee is spending some money on stream restoration [the upper river’s banks have been hammered by overgrazing], THE MOST BEAUTIFUL STREAM CHANNEL IN THE WORLD IS USELESS IF THERE IS NOT WATER IN IT!

    Pat Munday

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