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Montana officials unanimously banned motorized use on the Shields River Thursday, though some were wary about the rule’s effects on public access and recreation.

The new rule will prohibit the use of jet boats and other motorized vessels on the Shields River from its headwaters in the Crazy Mountains to its confluence with the Yellowstone River east of Livingston. The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to approve it at a virtual meeting.

The rule will go into effect once it is filed with the Montana Secretary of State.

Commissioner Andrew McKean said he felt comfortable supporting a ban on motorized use on the Shields largely because there are already several access points along the river. However, he said he’s worried about similar rules creating a “de facto loss of recreational access to some rivers.”

McKean encouraged the department to view the new rule as an argument to increase fishing access sites and safe, sane recreational access, especially as similar proposals arise elsewhere.

“We’re going to next look at the Boulder River,” he said. “I would anticipate we’ll see additional proposals come forward in commission meetings ahead.”

Landowners along the Boulder River submitted a petition calling on the commission to ban motorized use on the Boulder this August, also citing concerns for public safety. The commission held a hearing on the rule earlier in December.

Commissioner Tim Aldrich said he wrestled with the Shields and Boulder rivers petitions for several days, but it’s ultimately the commission's duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public.

Aldrich said he’s still concerned about emerging technologies getting around limitations set on certain rivers.

“This is a tough one for me, but I think the motion is headed in the right direction,” he said.

Regulations already prohibit people from operating motors beyond 10 horsepower in the Park County portions of the Shields, but jet boats can operate at high speeds well within these limits, according to local landowners.

Landowners along the Shields requested that the commission adopt a rule banning motorized use through a June petition and letter of support. They claimed jet boats were threatening public safety, as the river is narrow and windy. Landowners worried about collisions with irrigation equipment, livestock, swimmers, floaters and anglers.

The commission voted to draft new rules based on the petition. The department solicited public comments on the proposal in September and October, receiving 51 written comments in support of the rule and 134 in opposition to the rule.

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Helena Dore can be reached at or at 582-2628.

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