A hunting and fishing conservation group will see its proactive proposal to restrict motorized watercraft on multiple Montana waterways go before the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission on Thursday.
Calling the proposal its “Quiet Waters Initiative,” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers point to advances in motorized watercraft as reason to extend some regulations and institute others where safety and enjoyment could be compromised. The initiative covers nearly 50 streams and stream segments identified by the organization in a statewide inventory.
“It’s a very small minority of streams across Montana, so we think it’s a fairly minor proposal,” said Greg Munther, Montana BHA conservation coordinator. “We’re looking for a balance, and I think people in Montana like the current situation where we have places to use large high speed boats and places that are nonmotorized. We don’t want to change the world, but this is about maintaining traditional uses.”
Advancing watercraft technology is already producing personal watercraft capable of accessing previously unreachable streams, he said. The initiative encourages the agency to be proactive in its regulations, anticipating conflicts before they become reality and restrictions become reactionary.
The initiative recommends specific regulations, including on several Bitterroot streams with no motorized restrictions, that BHA proposes closing them to motorized watercraft.
Along some stretches of the Flathead River, they ask for no-wake restrictions on top of noise restrictions.
On several stretches of the Missouri River and in its tributaries, BHA recommends horsepower restrictions along with stricter enforcement of a no-wake zone below Hauser Dam.
The petition also recommends horsepower restrictions for stretches of the Yellowstone, Boulder and Stillwater rivers.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks recommends that the commission deny the petition.
“BHA presents recommendations to drastically restrict waterways without demonstrating any necessity to protect public health, public safety, public welfare, or to protect property and public resources,” FWP says in agenda materials.
The initiative claims safety concerns, yet Montana already has laws against operating a vessel in a reckless or negligent manner, and the initiative’s name implies it is primarily focused on eliminating the noise engines produce, the agency says.
FWP Enforcement Chief Tom Flowers said he was still reviewing the department’s position and did not have further insight to offer.
Munther said he’s hopeful the commission wants to look to the future in its decision.
“Hopefully they’ll move it to the public comment phase, which we think they ought to do,” he said. “These regulations set an ethical standard to prevent these issues from occurring where it’s inappropriate, and keeps opportunities the way they are now which seems pretty uncontroversial.”