Montana officials amended and approved new regulations intended to reduce crowding on the Madison River at a virtual meeting Wednesday, wrapping up a three-year long process.
The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission spent six hours Wednesday hearing public comments and wrangling with proposed rules to limit commercial use on stretches of the Madison River. They voted unanimously to pass a version of the regulations drafted by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials that will go into place in three parts.
The first part is about gathering data on noncommercial use and setting up a working group for the river. The second would put in place a cap on commercial use and the third would test restricting certain uses on certain days.
“Madison River recreation management is one of those issues where developing a solution that makes everyone happy is close to impossible,” said Eileen Ryce, FWP’s fisheries chief. “In developing a recommendation, our goal was to try and find some middle ground or a moderate approach that addresses the major concerns raised in public comment.”
Now that the regulations have passed the commission, they will go to the secretary of state’s office for filing, according to Becky Dockter, chief legal counsel for FWP. Commissioners said the rules would likely be filed by Dec. 15 and go into effect on Christmas Day.
FWP already drafted a series of rules reflecting recommendations found in petitions from the Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana (FOAM) and a coalition of the George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Anaconda Sportsmen Association and the Skyline Sportsmen Association. The department collected more than 700 public comments on those proposals, then drafted its own set of recommendations.
To give FWP staff time to evaluate the effectiveness of the new rules, the approved regulations will be adopted in phases, according to Ryce. Each phase will be evaluated and regulations will receive a full review every five years.
In 2021, the commission plans to appoint a working group responsible for regulating commercial and non-commercial river users. The working group is expected to include a commissioner and a member of the Bureau of Land Management.
Additionally, in 2021, all non-commercial river users will have to report their trips to FWP officials through a system devised by the department. The department suggested it may track non-commercial recreation via sign-in boxes, rather than mandatory stamps, as petitioners had originally proposed. Trail cameras are also being considered. The data collected from the project will help inform future non-commercial river use management.
In 2022, FWP plans to set the number of guided trips allocated to commercial river users at 2019 or 2020 levels, choosing whichever is higher for the outfitter. The new working group will continue to develop and monitor caps on the number of guided trips allocated to outfitters.
Further caps would be enforced based on levels recommended by the working group and approved by the commission. Information gathered from the non-commercial reporting requirements will allow the department to draft any regulations restricting such