Our land use focuses primarily on issues related to the river corridor, including channel migration and floodplain, development, and communities. Our Land Use Planning subcommittee includes BHWC Governing Board members, county planners, state agencies, and interested residents. Their goals are to:

  • Provide education forums.
  • Distribute information and solicit responses.
  • Investigate and generate solutions through forums, conferences, and workshops.
  • Bring the best solutions supported by the community to decision-makers.


Long-Term Goals
  • Change the community vision on importance of watersheds and corridors.
  • Conduct long-term planning to account for new residents and impacts on river system.
  • Provide incentives for landowners to practice sustainable land-management.


Past Activity
  • 150 Big Hole River Development Setback, standardized setback across all four counties
  • Big Hole River Channel Migration Zone Mapping

Current Activity

The Land Use Committee has been developing two programs addressing safety in the floodplain and enhancing the riparian corridor. These two programs have been developed with the input and guidance of local residents through public meetings, with local, state and national professionals involved with floodplain management, small group discussions with landowners and many thoughtful hours of learning, listening and responding to the concerns in the watershed.

Program 1: Big Hole River Incentive Program

This is a voluntary, incentive program that targets the Big Hole riparian corridor. Not only does this winding ribbon of willows and cottonwoods provide some of the most critical wildlife habitat but the riparian corridor is critical in maintaining water quality. The riparian corridor provides a linkage between uplands and safe passage between mountain ranges. The corridor also serves very important services such as floodwater storage and dissipating the energy of high flows. The Big Hole is fortunate to have had such good stewardship of the riparian resource and because there is such tremendous public benefit from these lands the committee has developed a pilot program that would reward continued good stewardship of the riparian corridor with annual payments. The program not only addresses some of the most critical habitat on private lands but also addresses the changing runoff regime associated with climate change.

Big Hole River Incentive Program

Program 2: Floodplain Mapping

Big Hole River Floodplain maps were developed and adopted by the state in 2014. The Big Hole Watershed Committee led this mapping process under the Land Use Planning Committee with leadership from Montana DNRC and in close partnership with each of four counties. The mapping goals were to maintain human health and safety in the Big Hole floodplain. BHWC also drafted recommended language for county development standards to incorporate river health as well as could provide standardized criteria across counties.

At the county level, new floodplain maps come with updated development standards that would replace the current development standards along the Big Hole, which includes the existing 150 foot setback from the mean high water mark, with a restricted area of the 100 year floodplain, channel migration zone and avulsion hazard zone. These areas pose significant risk to property, health and safety of residents and emergency responders. The science-based approach to identifying those areas that pose a significant threat to safety has been used across the country and not only protects people and property but the governments and municipalities administering the rules. Because the Big Hole floodplain varies as it travels downstream, the distance to ensure safety is sometimes quite close to the river’s edge and in other places an impressive distance.

Floodplain Mapping