The Yellowstone River Oil Spill Recreation Project Advisory Committee and the Montana Department of Justice Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP) solicited recreation project ideas last summer to help compensate the public for recreational losses due to the July 2011 Yellowstone River oil spill.  Applications were due August 25.  The applicants presented their projects to the Recreation Advisory Committee on Wednesday, October 11 and Thursday, October 12.  A list of the applications follows:


Applicant                                                                               Project Title

Big Sky Economic Development Authority                      Coulson Park Master Planning

Big Sky Economic Development Authority                      Coulson Park Infrastructure

Billings, City of                                                                      Coulson Park Improvement

Billings Chamber of Commerce                                          William Clark Recreation Area

Engh, LuAnne                                                                        Buffalo Mirage access, Park City

Laurel, City of                                                                        Riverside Park Campground & Boat ramp

Laurel, City of                                                                         Riverside Park Vault Toilets

Laurel, City of and Lion’s Club                                            Lion’s Family Park

Billings, City of                                                                      Josephine Lake Fishing Habitat Improvement

Billings, City of                                                                      Riverfront Park Hand launch

Billings, City of                                                                      Riverfront Park Multi-use Trail

Yellowstone Co Board of Park Commissioners              Two Moon Park Recreation Hiking & Emergency Access

Pheasants Forever                                                                Improvements to Terrestrial Acquisitions

Montana Audubon Center                                                 Billings Urban River Trail

Our Montana                                                                         Explore the Yellowstone River

Our Montana                                                                         Yellowstone River Private Islands

Yellowstone River Parks Association                               Washington St. Bridge Purchase

Yellowstone River Parks Association                               Sindelar Ranch Acquisition

Yellowstone River Parks Association                              Joel’s Pond Improvements

Yellowstone River Parks Association                              Norm’s Island Latrines

Our Montana                                                                        Clarks Crossing Fishing Access Site

Our Montana                                                                        Two Bridges Fishing Access Site

Sather, Matthew D.                                                             River Front Park Boat Ramp

Woods, Woody                                                                      Arrow Island — Hana Hou Trail

Montana FWP                                                                      Yellowstone R.Fishing Access Site Acquisition & Development

The Recreation Project Advisory Committee will be holding meetings in January 2018 to discuss these projects further. NRDP is presently gathering more detailed information on these projects and will combine some of these projects with others.  Please contact Alicia Stickney at 406-444-0205 or [email protected] if you have any questions about the recreation project plan.

Yellowstone River Recreation Project Advisory Committee

Draft meeting minutes from the applicant presentations to the Recreation Advisory Committee on October 11 and 12, 2017 are posted here: 10-11-17 Recreation Advisory Committee Presentations Meeting Notes.

The second meeting of the Yellowstone River Recreation Project Advisory Committee took place on Monday, June 12th. Meeting minutes are posted here: 6-12-17 Recreation Advisory Committee Meeting Notes.

Minutes from the first meeting, held on May 15th are posted here: 5-15-17 Recreation Advisory Committee Meeting Notes.


Members of the Committee:

Governor appointed:

Kathleen Aragon

Ted Lovec

Laurel appointed:

Kenneth E. Olson, Jr.

Yellowstone County appointed:

Gary Connelley

John Moorhouse

Bradley Shoemaker

Billings appointed:

Jim Ronquillo


Final Yellowstone River 2011 Oil Spill Restoration Plan Approved

In January 2017, the State of Montana and U.S. Department of the Interior issued the Final Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan and Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment for the Exxonmobil Pipeline Company July 1, 2011 Yellowstone River Oil Spill. The restoration plan was prepared by the State of Montana through the Department of Justice Natural Resource Damage Program and the U.S. Department of the Interior, through the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The restoration plan describes the natural resource injuries caused by the oil spill and restoration project types to compensate for those injuries.

The State of Montana and the United States entered into a $12 million natural resource damage settlement with Exxonmobil, which was approved by the Court in December. The State of Montana will be implementing almost $9.5 million in restoration projects on the Yellowstone River in the next few years. “The restoration plan includes a range of project types that address specific injuries associated with the oil spill, and in total will make the environment and public whole,” said Alicia Stickney, Natural Resource Damage Program Project Manager. “The plan will guide restoration of the Yellowstone River to improve natural and recreational resources of the river injured due to the spill.”

To assist with the development of recreation projects, the State has formed a locally-based ad-hoc Recreation Project Advisory Committee to prepare a draft Recreation Project Plan for how approximately $2.3 million will be spent on recreation projects on the Yellowstone River impacted by the spill. The draft Recreation Project Plan will be submitted to the Governor for approval. The Recreation Project Advisory Committee will solicit projects and input from the community.


On July 1, 2011, a 12-inch diameter pipeline (Silvertip Pipeline) owned by ExxonMobil Pipeline Company ruptured near Laurel, Montana, resulting in the discharge of crude oil into the Yellowstone River and floodplain. The discharge is estimated to have been approximately 63,000 gallons (about 1,500 barrels) of oil. The discharge occurred during a high-flow event, affecting approximately 85 river miles and associated floodplain.  Oil from the spill, along with the cleanup activities, harmed natural resources including fish and other aquatic organisms, birds (including migratory birds), wildlife, large woody debris piles, aquatic habitat, terrestrial habitat, recreational use, and the services provided by these natural resources. These public natural resources are under the Trusteeship of the State of Montana and the U.S. Department of the Interior under the Oil Pollution Act and other laws.


Yellowstone River Below Laurel in 2011. Photo: Larry Mayer


The primary goal of the Oil Pollution Act is to make the environment and public whole for injuries to natural resources and services resulting from a discharge of oil or other hazardous substances to the environment. In the restoration plan, the Trustees have presented their evaluation of injuries to the natural resources, restoration alternatives, and projects that benefit the same or similar resources injured by the oil spill.



Oil inundated floodplain on Yellowstone River- Note visible oil on water & vegetation at water’s edge. Photo credit: Larry Mayer


Oil from the spill, along with spill response and cleanup activities, harmed fish, wildlife and their habitats and other natural resources in and around the Yellowstone River. The spill also impacted the recreational use of the river and public sites along the river. Injuries included:

  • Terrestrial/riparian habitat and supported biota, through exposure to oil and disturbance caused by response activities.
  • Large woody debris piles Injuries through exposure to oil and disturbance by response activities.
  • Riverine aquatic habitat and supported biota, including fish injuries, caused by exposure to oil.
  • Birds, through exposure to oil and disturbance by response activities, specifically injuries to cavity-nesting birds and American white pelican.
  • Human service losses, including recreational angling and park use.

External Lesion Caused by Oil on Redhorse Sucker Collected in Fall 2011 Down River from the Spill Site. Photo: Montana FWP

The Trustees evaluated a range of restoration alternatives that would provide resource services to compensate the public for losses pending natural recovery of resources injured by the oil spill. The Trustees have identified preferred restoration alternatives designed to address the resource injuries. The Trustees plan to work with project partners such as local, state, and federal agencies and nonprofit organizations and landowners to implement the projects.







Project types include:

  • Acquiring terrestrial/riparian bottomland to conserve and restore terrestrial habitat with some acquisitions focusing on habitat requirements for injured birds
  • Acquiring and restoring terrestrial/riparian habitat
  • Controlling invasive woody species on state and federal lands
  • Acquiring channel migration or other easements or fee title land acquisitions to provide areas for large woody debris recruitment
  • Removing flanked riprap from the river
  • Removing side channel blockages
  • Providing fish passage around fish barriers
  • Restoring and stabilizing river banks using soft bank restoration techniques
  • Increasing American white pelican production through improvement of breeding and nesting areas
  • Improving city parks and public lands bordering the Yellowstone River
  • Improving urban fishing opportunities adjacent to the Yellowstone River
  • Developing new and preserving existing public access on the Yellowstone River



Yellowstone River – Photo credit: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

For more information, contact Alicia Stickney at 406-444-1346 or e-mail at [email protected]