Channel Migration Easement Program

Channel Migration
Easement Program

The Channel Migration Easement (CME) program offers landowners an opportunity to sell the right to armor and reinforce riverbanks that are within the river’s 100-year channel migration zone.

Channel migration easements (CME) keep the river connected to its floodplain by providing the river room to move across its valley within the historical channel migration zone. A CME is a special form of conservation easement where a landowner continues to use their land while allowing the river to migrate across the floodplain within the easement boundaries.

Often the dynamic movement of the river channel is perceived as in conflict with land management activities. However, channel migration easements benefit both the river and its adjacent landowners. The migration of river channels across valley bottoms provides many ecological functions that are valued by Montanans, including flood water storage, improved water quality, and fish and wildlife habitat. As a practical tool, the easements help protect the ecological benefits of natural river channel migration while compensating landowners for their land potentially lost to erosion or damaged by flooding. Typically, restrictions outlined in the easement focus on avoiding the cost and habitat impact of armoring, hardening, or diking the riverbank and floodplain, but the landowner retains the right to manage the acres for agricultural production, irrigation, recreation, and other uses.

MARS is currently only pursuing CMEs along the Yellowstone River, but hopes to expand this model to other rivers in the future. If you are interested in discussing a CME on your property, please contact MARS’s Director of Program Development, Tom Hinz, (406) 404-1166. To learn more, check out our CME Brochure.

Channel Migration Yellowstone
This “channel migration zone” map illustrates the natural movement of the Yellowstone River channel over time. The segment shown shifted considerably in 50 years (to the southeast in this case), creating new patterns of flow, new habitat, and other new features within the floodplain.