Ravalli commissioners won't take position on river permits - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Ravalli commissioners won't take position on river permits

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HAMILTON - Ravalli County commissioners won't take a position on a proposed float permit system for the upper Bitterroot River with the board content to see how the state's proposed controls work out.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has been working with commercial outfitters, wade fishermen and others for more than a year to develop a system to head off overcrowding on the Upper Bitterroot above Darby. 

The proposed changes would set limits on the number of commercial outfitters and even set up some daily closures on the river to spread out use, especially on the popular West Fork.

County commissioners weren't sure whether to write a letter to comment on the changes, facing a nearly empty meeting room and limited input.

"In the years, intervening, when I haven't fished so much there hasn't ever been any kind of a developed way to determine exactly how much of that traffic is guide and private float, as much commercial guiding is purportedly done on the river. I'd like to know that," Ravalli County Commissioner Chris Hoffman said.

The one outfitter who was on hand said the process of developing the regulations had been extensive and did involve all the user groups -- an important point given the economic impact of fishing.

"You know, as a guide and outfitter, yeah I feel like it's a little overreaching on the regulation side. But there are other people who were private anglers that wanted more regulation and didn't think they got enough. But the process itself was very fair," Ernie Olwell said.

"And I think we have to balance, you know, certainly resident anglers and their rights. But we also have to look at the impact from non-residents coming in. And it's not just guides and outfitters. I mean they're using hotels, lodging, retail," Olwell added.

Commissioners did have some concerns about how the controls will impact not only fishing, but recreational floating, but felt the system should be allowed to work.

"That's the only thing that I see that I would probably object to, and I know that might not be popular with the wade fishermen. But I think if you're planning a family trip up the West Fork, and that's a big section of time, from July to September," said Ravalli County Commissioner Jeff Burrows.

"Like he said, probably nobody got everything but, it almost sounds like a pretty decent collaboration," added Ravalli County commissioner Doug Schallenberger.

Commissioners voted not to send a letter to comment on the proposal. FWP will accept comments until Oct. 13.

Click here to review the entire rule proposal and EA and to comment, or request information or comment by mail from Region 2 FWP, 3201 Spurgin Rd., Missoula 59804; by phoning (406) 542-5540; or by emailing shrose@mt.gov.  Comments must be received by FWP no later than 5 p.m. on October 13, 2017.

For specific questions on the proposed rules and draft EA, contact Chrissy Oschell, FWP Region 2 River Recreation Manager by phone at (406) 542-5562 or email coschell@mt.gov.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission will review public comment and make a final decision on the proposed rule language at its regularly scheduled December meeting.

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