Proposed amendment would clarify commercial floating regulations on the Bitterroot River
The commercial use permit restrictions for floating the upper Bitterroot River and West Fork appear to be working, according to Christine Oschell, the River Recreation Coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, who gave an update to members of Bitterroot Trout Unlimited last week.
The rules were proposed to address concerns about congestion on the river and social conflicts between river users and were based on the recommendations of a citizen advisory council (CAC) in accordance with the River Recreation Management Rules.
The regulations divide the West Fork and the upper Bitterroot River into four sections: from Painted Rocks Dam to Applebury Forest Service Site; Applebury Site to Trapper Creek Job Corps Site; Job Corps Site to Hannon Memorial Fishing Access Site; and Hannon Site to Wally Crawford Fishing Access Site. The regulations restrict commercial activity by limiting the number of times commercial floaters can launch in each section and provide a day on each section each week where non-commercial people can enjoy that section of the river without the pressure from all the commercial activity. The number of outfitters was also capped at its current number.
In answer to the question as to how many commercial floats would actually be permitted under the plan, FWP fisheries biologist Chris Clancy calculated the maximum number for each day.
On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with no non-commercial sections there could be a maximum of 53 outfitters running a total of 262 boats. In the top three sections on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays the maximum possible would be 210 boats. On Mondays, with the non-commercial from Hannon to Wally Crawford the maximum potential drops to 156 boats.
Dave Campbell, a member of Bitterroot Trout Unlimited who served on the CAC, said that the data collected by FWP on the first year is very encouraging. He said the results of the survey show that the use of the river by non-commercial fishermen did increase over this period in each section. It also showed that the use by commercial outfitters increased.
“It looks like a win/win situation,” said Campbell. “It appears they were able to give non-commercial fishermen their own day on each section of the river and still maintained the commercial activity.” He said there was some concern that giving non-commercial people their own day per week in each section would cut into the amount of commercial use. “But it does not appear that happened.”
“I think FWP really ran a very deliberate, very facilitated program to come up with the rule and I think they did a really good job,” said Campbell. “I think the process worked and the rule has done what it’s supposed to do and now we’ll monitor it for a few years.” He said he thought it was important to let it run for a few years and not make too much out of one snapshot, which FWP plans to do.
Local fishing outfitter Jack Mauer, who also served on the CAC, said he was pleased for the most part with the whole process and the results. He said they did a couple of surveys and the decision was data based.
Mauer said that he’s heard some grousing, but that he believes it was something that had to be done. He said the general public seemed to be embracing it and using the closed-to-commercial sections more.
He said the cap on the commercial permits was going to hurt somebody eventually. Somebody who has guided for an outfitter for 10 or 15 years and thinks it’s time he ran his own outfit, may not be able to on the Bitterroot River, he said.
Mauer said that as the use of our rivers increases regulations are unavoidable. He said there will always be issues, “but the rules help everyone and help the river and the fishery too.”
During public comment regarding the proposed rules, several people stated they wanted the restriction of commercial use permit holders to be changed from “two floats per section” to “two launches per section.” The commission adopted the new administrative rules at their December 7, 2017 meeting without changing the terminology of “floats” to “launches” and directed the department to evaluate the effectiveness of the rule after the first year of implementation to see if any amendments would be necessary.
The department analyzed the 2018 monitoring data and on January 7, 2019, held a meeting which included eleven of the sixteen CAC members that developed the rule language proposed in 2017 to develop any recommended amendments to the rule language. Based on the data analysis and feedback provided at the meeting, the commission is now proposing amending the Rule to change “floats” to “launches,” provide a definition for “launch,” and provide a timeframe from June 1 to September 15 for the launch restriction per section of river for commercial use permit holders instead of the restriction being year-round.
The commission is also proposing to amend the Rule to reflect the correct starting year that the five-year review is to occur.
Concerned persons may submit their data, views, or arguments either orally or in writing at the hearing. Written data, views, or arguments may also be submitted to: Bitterroot River Recreation, Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, 3201 Spurgin Road, Missoula MT 59804; or e-mail email@example.com, and must be received no later than March 22, 2019.