BRPA is a WATERKEEPER Alliance Affiliate and the director also serves as the Bitterroot River Waterkeeper.
The role of the Program Director/WATERKEEPER for the BRPA is broad. It means advocating for the Bitterroot River and its tributaries in every way possible. It involves working with the public, with community organizations, with local government and public agencies as well as with state and federal agencies. Our Director has established a good working relationship with local USFWS law enforcement, with the Director of the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge and with the staff, including the public relations and the field biologist and fisheries experts; with the Supervisor of the Bitterroot National Forest and staff, including the fisheries biologist, hydrologist and law enforcement; the Regional Director of the DNRC in Missoula and the local personnel, including the dam regulators, in the Bitterroot; the Bitterroot River Water Commissioner, who works for the Court; the Regional Director of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the local fisheries biologist; the Supervisors of the local Bitterroot Conservation District; the local representatives of DEQ, DNRC and the Army Corps of Engineers; and the countyʼs local Floodplain Administrator.
The Director/WATERKEEPER monitors permitting activity at the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Department of Environmental Quality, Bitterroot Conservation District, Army Corps of Engineers, Bitterroot National Forest, and the Ravalli County Floodplain Administrator. He evaluates the permit applications and participates in any permitting processes that raise concerns, submitting appropriate comments and objections when necessary. He also handles all the record keeping related to these procedures and helps manage these through the administrative hearings process if necessary.
The Director/WATERKEEPER also spends a lot of time in the field directing the BRPA River Watch Program. It means coordinating with local fishing outfitters and other dedicated river enthusiasts to keep an eye on the river. The BRPA River Watch program has operated a fairly successful program since 2000, using several volunteers with their own boats patrolling designated sections of the river on a fairly regular basis. BRPA has filed complaints over water right appropriations with DNRC and 310 Permitting complaints with the local Conservation District as a result of River Watcher reports. The Director also works directly with the public, fielding complaints and responding appropriately by working with the appropriate agencies to get results or by pursuing the complaint process with the appropriate agencies.
BRPA has maintained an Aerial Reconnaissance Program since 2000, using local private pilots willing to donate the flight. BRPA has used some local commercial pilots at reduced rates for non-profits, and also LightHawk, a national program providing aerial surveillance and documentation services.
BRPAʼs Legal Defense Program is a strong one and the Director/WATERKEEPER is expected to shepherd all the work involved in pursuing administrative appeals in the various agencies and working with the legal team when anything goes to court. BRPA is lucky to be able to use one of the nationʼs foremost attorneys in environmental law, Jack Tuholske. His lawfirm is located in Missoula and he currently serves as Co-Director for the Vermont Law School Water and Justice Program.
The Director/WATERKEEPER is also the lead person for public outreach and represents the organization at community events. He addresses businesses and business organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, realtor associations, etc. He initiates speaking engagements with community organizations like the Lions Club, the Rotary Club, the American Legion, etc. to inform the community about the river organization and its work.
The Director/WATERKEEPER works closely with other river advocates like the Bitterroot Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Bitterroot Water Forum, Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association, and the local representatives of the Montana Wilderness Association, Clark Fork Coalition, etc. BRPA is also a member of the River Network and the Director has benefited from several workshops at a few of the Networkʼs national conventions.
BRPA’s current Program Director/WATERKEEPER, Michael Howell, was born in Mississippi and raised in south Texas. He earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Philosophy from Pennsylvania State University in 1974. He earned a Master of Arts Degree in Philosophy from the University of Montana in 1982. He and his wife, Victoria, moved to the Bitterroot valley in 1985 and started the Bitterroot Star newspaper. They still own and operate the newspaper in Stevensville.
Michael is an avid outdoorsman, hiker, fisher and birdwatcher, and fell in love with the Bitterroot Mountains and the Bitterroot River. He and his wife live on a small spring creek in the Burnt Fork area of the Bitterroot in the oldest continually occupied home in western Montana.
In his career as a journalist Michael has won many awards from the Montana Newspaper Association.
In addition, after founding the BRPA in 2000, he was honored by the Montana Wildlife Federation as the Conservation Communicator of the Year in 2004. He was also at the helm in 2004 when the BRPA organization was awarded the Special Conservation Achievement Award from the Montana Wildlife Federation. In 2005, he was the recipient of the Burk-Brandborg Conservation Award sponsored by the Five Valleys Land Trust, and in 2006 he received the Outdoor Writer Award from the Montana Chapter of the American Fisheries Society.