Few things are better than a hot summer day spent on the Madison River. As more people discover that, the Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks is trying to get ahead of potential conflicts.
At Thursday’s FWP Commission meeting in Helena, commissioners voted to accept the recommendations of a Madison River Citizens Advisory Committee on ways to preserve the Madison River experience for the public.
The primary recommendation was for FWP to collect more information on who uses the river, where it’s most used and when. The river is popular for fishing, floating and camping.
There is a perception that the river is congested, especially along the upper stretch. More information would prove how congested it actually is, said commission chairman Dan Vermillion.
FWP conducts fishing pressure surveys twice a year and has registration information from commercial users. But more information is needed about the general public.
“The demographics would help us determine how to control the use,” said committee member Robin Cunningham.
Other recommendations include using educational material to promote river etiquette; increasing oversight if user dissatisfaction reaches an unacceptable level; redesigning access sites to reduce congestion; and perhaps requiring annual permits.
The nine-member committee started working on the recommendations a year ago. Seven members are regular citizens, plus one representative each from FWP and the Bureau of Land Management.
Region 3 supervisor Pat Flowers represented FWP and said there was a lot of concern at the public meetings in Bozeman and Ennis about whether certain groups would be restricted.
All the user groups were represented on the committee, and there was a lot of give-and-take in the final recommendations, Flowers said.
“We faced some early criticism about why we are even doing this,” Flowers said. “We know it’s a popular river and it’s just going to get more popular. Instead of waiting until user groups start head-butting, we are getting out ahead of it.”
Cunningham said the recommendations supported the status quo for now.
“Some anxiety, much concern and even joy went into this – I hope you respect the product of that consensus,” Cunningham said.
With the commission’s initial approval, FWP will create a draft of the recommendations that could be available for public comment by the end of the summer. Then a draft recreation management plan will be written incorporating the comments.
The plan may go into effect by 2015.