At its Feb. 13 meeting, the Fish & Wildlife Commission approved proposed amendments to the Bitterroot river commercial use rules for public comment.
In December 2017, the commission adopted administrative rules restricting recreational and commercial use of the West Fork of the Bitterroot River and the Upper Bitterroot River. The rules were intended to address concerns about congestion on the river and social conflicts between river users. The rules were based on recommendations of a citizen advisory council.
Based on feedback from CAC members and FWP analysis of 2018 data, the department is recommending amending the rule to change “floats” to “launches” and provide a definition of “launch.” The department is also proposing a drafting correction that would provide a timeframe from June 1 to Sept. 15 per section of river for commercial use permit holders instead of the restriction being year-round.
There are a few reasons for these changes. River section lengths are too short at high flows, with float trips extending into lower river sections. As a result, commercial use is further restricted at high water since it takes multiple floats to conduct one trip. Using the “float” restriction also encourages congestion at accesses at section boundaries. Using “launches” allows floating into downstream sections that allow commercial use, so it spreads out use of access sites. These proposed amendments will not affect non-commercial use sections and are expected to ease restrictions on commercial users, spread out congestion at access sites and not affect non-commercial users in restricted sections.
Public comment on the proposed amendments will be accepted from Feb. 22 to March 22. There will be a public hearing on March 19 at 6 p.m. at the Bitterroot National Forest Supervisor’s Office, 1801 N. 1st St., in Hamilton. Comments can be sent in writing to Bitterroot River Recreation, Fish, Wildlife & Parks, 3201 Spurgin Road, Missoula, MT 59804, emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, or submitted online at fwp.mt.gov and clicking on “Submit Public Comments.”