Montana Audubon

Montana Audubon works at the local, state and national policy levels to protect our natural heritage.

Stream Setbacks: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Local governments are working to adopt stream protection measures in several counties and communities in Montana. This series of fact sheets contains some of the generic “frequently asked questions” raised by opponents and supporters of these measures. The answers to questions have been assembled by local government staff, resource professionals, citizens groups, and other sources. By assembling many of these questions in one location, it is hoped that Montanans can learn from the experience of other Montanans.


Have any Montana local governments identified shortcomings in their adopted stream protection regulations? Learn the different levels of protection offered by subdivision regulations as opposed to regulations adopted through zoning. Also learn why Beaverhead County would like to see its Big Hole River protection measures strengthened. Download this fact sheet HERE.


What does science say about the effectiveness of stream setbacks? Examine what scientific studies have generally found regarding the effectiveness of stream setbacks with vegetative buffers. Additionally, learn how Montana’s 50-foot stream setback for commercial logging practices (Streamside Management Zone) is different than construction setbacks. Download this fact sheet HERE.


Are stream setbacks legal? How do they impact private property rights? How does land use planning—and construction setbacks—relate to the “takings” of private property by the government? What Montana-based lawsuits have occurred on this issue? Can stream setbacks can be adopted in subdivision and floodplain regulations? Why did the Montana Legislature rejected setbacks legislation at the state level? Download this fact sheet HERE.


What activities do stream setbacks regulate? Learn about the types of activities Montana local governments have regulated through stream setbacks, including how these regulations generally impact public access to private land, agricultural operations, weed control, and wildfire fuels reduction. Download this fact sheet HERE.


Do stream setbacks contain exceptions? Read how local governments manage issues such as when a parcel of land isn’t deep enough to allow for a setback and a building site; why regulations apply to high bluffs well about the floodplain; and how existing structures are generally treated in setback regulations. Download this fact sheet HERE.


Do we really need more regulations protecting our streams and wetlands? Find out how buildings impact streams, as well as how to obtain information about other regulations (i.e. floodplain, septic, 310 permits, etc.) protecting stream and wetland resources. Download this fact sheet HERE.

The following two fact sheets elaborate on information found in FACT SHEET 6:


Differences: Stream Permits versus Stream Setbacks. How are stream construction setbacks different from Montana’s other (federal, state, local) permits relating to streams, water quality, and water quantity? This handout discusses each stream and wetland permit used in Montana, contrasting them with stream setbacks. Download this handout HERE.


Do floodplain regulations adequately protect Montana’s streams and rivers from development? Read how construction setbacks are different than floodplain regulations. Additionally, a case study taken from the Jefferson River near Three Forks illustrates how typical floodplain regulations are enacted in Montana. Download this fact sheet HERE.

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