In yet another delay to manage recreational use on the Madison River, a rule set to take effect next year that would have capped commercial outfitter and guide use has been delayed until 2023.
The Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4-1 to extend the date at its Thursday meeting, citing in part a need to involve the new Madison River Recreation Committee in the process.
The rule that was delayed would have capped the total number of guide trips per outfitter and guide at the number of trips reported in either 2019 or 2020, whichever number was higher.
More than 300 outfitters have Special Recreation Permits for the Madison. The upper river, the 50 miles above Ennis Lake to Quake Lake, saw an estimated 207,000 angler days in 2017, 89% of which comes from noncommercial anglers. The majority of anglers are nonresidents.
Commissioner Pat Byorth, a former Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks fisheries biologist, was the only member to oppose the delay.
“Kicking this can down the road, especially in a year like this where our fishery is going to be more and more stressed, I think it’s a dangerous thing, and I’m opposed to moving the date ahead,” Byorth said.
FWP has been wrestling with recreation management on the river since 2011, with concerns about overcrowding dating back to 1979. A previous coalition designed to come to a consensus on the problem was dissolved amid bitter divisions. In 2018, a different Fish and Wildlife Commission denied FWP’s river management environmental assessment that would have established an outfitter cap.
Commissioner Pat Tabor, a Whitefish outfitter, disagreed with Byorth, saying the delay would enable the commission and working group to come to an “integrated solution considering all aspects and all use other than a piecemeal implementation.
“This is a sensible way to go about regulating it, and it gives the committee the opportunity to look at it holistically, instead of one thing at a time,” he added.
Commissioner K.C. Walsh, who is executive chairman of a Gallatin Valley fishing products manufacturer, said he sees the delay as a way to involve outfitters and guides in the process when they are not busy during the peak of their summer angling season.
The commission’s decision didn’t sit well with Nick Gevock, conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation.
“This is exactly kicking the can down the road on a process that’s been in place for several years,” he said. “We think we need to put a cap on the number of outfitters and the number of days. And this decision again asks the question of: What is this agency managing for? Is it managing for the public fisheries resource or for commercial opportunity?”