An open letter from the Madison River Foundation regarding the Negotiated Rule Making Committee process that is underway.
The Madison River is experiencing unprecedented growth in the numbers of fishermen recreating on its historic waters. According to FWP estimates, over the past five years the number of angler days spent on the river has doubled, making the Madison the most heavily fished river in the State of Montana. During this time angler satisfaction, also measured by FWP, has steadily declined. However, in an interesting twist, one that we can be thankful for, the underlying fish populations have remained intact, thus far.
Given the growth in angling pressure, set against a trout-unfriendly backdrop of climatic change (heat, drought, shrinking snowpack, earlier runoffs, earlier and longer hoot-owl restrictions, longer fire seasons, etc.), the MRF’s mission to preserve, protect, and enhance the Madison River has never been more important.
Unlike the last set of FWP regulation changes that opened the Madison to year-round angling in 2017, which was opposed by the MRF, at this time the MRF has chosen to support FWPs proposal made to their commissioners in April 2018.
To state that position:
● The MRF supports FWP’s proposal to maintain separate walk/wade and float fishing areas in the upper river. FWP did an onsite stream survey and found the conflicts between wade anglers and boats overwhelming in the walk/wade section of the river. The regulations, first established over 30 years ago to minimize the conflict that arose between wade anglers and float anglers, are beneficial to anglers who do not own boats or cannot afford guided float fishing.
● The MRF supports Montana’s world-leading stream access laws and has never advocated for anything that infringes upon those laws. Public access to Montana’s navigable rivers is a right that all Montanans enjoy. The MRF’s position on this issue has been validated by state legal opinion.
● The MRF supports FWP’s proposal to prohibit commercial use on the Madison River between Greycliff Fishing Access Site and the confluence with the Jefferson River. The prohibition on commercial use will help to ensure the primitive experience remains unchanged.
● The MRF supports FWP’s proposal for banning of glass containers on the river.
● The MRF supports FWP’s proposal to control the growth of guided fishing trips as a first step in addressing growth in angling pressure. We believe that these limits must be carefully and thoughtfully determined as they have a direct economic impact on the local community.
● The MRF also supports efforts to gather data on the noncommercial usage of the river so that recommendations can be intelligently made to address crowding there, as well.
The MRF has never been more active in its role as a conservator and advocate for the Madison River, as
evidenced by the growth in its membership, the amount of available funds dedicated to project work, and most importantly the projects it has undertaken to the benefit of everyone who uses the Madison River.
Recent MRF accomplishments include:
● Opening five new miles of public access on the Madison River in a section that was previously locked out to walk-in access;
● Developing a riparian restoration plan for the main stem of the Madison River that has identified over 20 future riparian restoration projects;
● Fully funding the first of the Madison River Riparian Restoration projects, the Three Dollar Bridge project, which will break ground this spring;
● Completing a multi-year macroinvertebrate study;
● Developing an innovative solution that will keep trout out of irrigation canals;
● Hosting its most successful annual fundraiser to date last July;
● For the first time in its history, completing formally audited financial statements which allow the MRF to petition for grants requiring audited results;
● Partnering with landowners on riparian fencing projects;
● Conducting a riparian revegetation project in conjunction with BLM;
● Hosting river clean-up days;
● Participating in aquatic invasive species mitigation efforts;
● Continuing support for youth education with Bear Creek Days and the Ennis Science Fair; and
● Continuing to advocate for policy that impacts the Madison River and its ecosystem.
As a steward of the river, if the MRF allows the Madison River to reach a tipping point, as FWP’s biologists have pointed out is possible, it will have failed in that stewardship. Finding a balance between conservation and commercial use on the Madison is something that everyone has a critical stake in. It is the hope of the Madison River Foundation that everyone can come together in finding the best possible solutions for all, especially the fish.