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FWP, stakeholders continue discussion of the Madison

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The Black’s Ford Fishing Access Site on the Lower Madison River in July. This site is a popular take-out spot for recreational floaters. PHOTO COURTESY OF MONTANA FISH, WILDLIFE AND PARKS

Ambassador program proposed to reduce conflict at access points

By Jessianne Castle EBS ENVIRONMENTAL & OUTDOORS EDITOR

BOZEMAN – The Madison River is known the world over for the chance of hooking aggressive rainbow or burly brown trout. Locals know how the wind can scream over the water, but many an angler cherishes memories of that sacred moment when a fly connects them to a fish in the secret pockets of the Madison.

River rats know the allure of the Madison too—the Madison is a destination river float, attracting families, tourists, college students and more. 

But with such popularity, recreationists and managers continue to tango with questions of crowding and conflict and how best to steward the river.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks reports that between 1984 and 2017, angler usage has increased by more than 300 percent and during that time, anglers have increasingly expressed dissatisfaction with river crowding, traffic at access sites and conflict among users.

Mac Minard, the executive director of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association based in Montana City near Helena, said he and his wife have experienced issues at Fishing Access Sites firsthand. Whether it’s a site user who blocks the launch point while they rig up a boat, or someone who doesn’t park their boat trailer in the correct spot, Minard says it can be a frustrating start to a trip or a sour note at the end.

“It’s not a matter of people being mean,” he said. “It’s a lack of education.”

Earlier this year MOGA hired a statistician to assess FWP’s river satisfaction surveys and according to Minard, “There is no technical basis to support overcrowding [on the river].” Instead, he said in about 70 percent of complaints, the issue was at the fishing accesses.

With this in mind, and with support from many of the association’s fishing outfitter members, MOGA proposed an FAS Ambassador Program to the department in July. This program, which is also endorsed by the Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana, would place a seasonal staff person from FWP on-site at some of the most popular accesses on the Madison to direct parking and traffic flow.

“This is an example of collective thinking. We want to solve a problem and do it in a way that would be positive for everyone,” Minard said, adding that the program could also be used statewide.

Fisheries Chief of Staff Eileen Ryce said that while the department won’t be able to implement the program this year, they will look at options for next season.

This program comes on the heels of a year fraught with disagreement over regulations concerning the Madison River, which has been an ongoing focus of FWP efforts to address crowding and conflict throughout the past 60 years. After the disbanding of a stakeholder committee in May tasked with recommending actions to FWP that would address these challenges, the department is more or less back to the drawing board.

While unwilling to discuss FWP’s stance on any new regulations, Ryce said to stay tuned and that “we’re definitely continuing to look at it.”

She added that in addition to considering the FAS Ambassador Program, the department is developing outreach efforts that promote boat ramp etiquette to immediately address concerns over conflict at access points.

In an Aug. 7 press release,  FWP reported that roughly 3.9 million visitors utilize the 330 Fishing Access Sites in the whole of Montana, and whether recreationists are there to fish or float, it’s up to users to be polite, respectful and courteous in order to keep the sites open and enjoyable.

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