The Bitterroot Chapter of Montana Trout Unlimited has filed complaints with both the Montana Board of Outfitters and the Bitterroot Conservation District against a local fishing guide for violating 310 law on the West Fork of the Bitterroot River near Rombo Creek. The alleged violation took place on June 7, 2020 around noon.
TU members have been participating in the Woody Debris Management Task Force that was organized this winter by the Bitterroot Conservation District and Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to address the chronic problem of illegal wood cutting on the river and take some proactive measures to reduce the illegal activity.
One of the proactive measures was to initiate a spring float in which experts from various agencies float the river and identify potential hazards early in the season and make plans for addressing them. The potential hazards are evaluated and the best way to manage them is decided upon. Woody debris is a critical element in making for good fish habitat, especially critical for endangered species like the Bull trout and species of concern like the Westslope cutthroat trout. Sometimes it’s best to leave the woody debris in place and let the boaters portage around. In other cases, some strategic actions could be taken to allow for floating while mitigating any serious damage to the habitat.
The task force is also working on protocols for responding to reported hazards in a timely manner. Following the 310 Permitting rules can be a slow process at times since the Board of Supervisors must meet to make any decision about the permit. The task force is working on a protocol that could greatly speed up the response to hazards, but it may take some rule changes to implement it.
A couple of weeks ago, the task force got a chance to respond to a reported hazard on the West Fork of the river in which a tree had blocked the entire river. Report of the hazard came in on a Friday and a team was assembled to assess the situation the next Monday. If action was advisable the task force had the chance to make recommendations to the board on Tuesday evening and potentially get the issue resolved on Wednesday. But that didn’t happen.
When the group arrived on the scene on Monday it was discovered that someone had already cut the log jam out.
Usually this would put an end to things since it is not often that this kind of activity is observed. But not this time.
According to Bitterroot TU president Jeremy Anderson, illegal wood cutting on the West Fork has been so extensive over the last several years that the group decided to keep a watch on this log as the task force moved through its procedural response. A camera was set up on private property with the landowner’s permission near the log jam to record activity on the river in the vicinity of the log. Anderson said that the camera showed a person cutting out the log on Sunday about noon the day before the task force was going to make its assessment.
Based on an examination of the photos, TU believes that it has identified the perpetrator. The complaints submitted to the Montana Board of Outfitters and the Bitterroot Conservation District name local fishing guide Tucker Lehar as the alleged perpetrator.
The BCD will consider the complaint at its next meeting on Tuesday, June 30.
BTU president Jeremy Anderson said it is a pretty clearcut violation in his opinion given the photographic evidence.
“How many 310 violations are we willing to continue to accept before we do something to protect the critical habitat that these native species rely on,” mused Anderson. “Our answer, and the responsible one, is none.”