Bitterroot River recreation panel gets ‘push-back’ from fishing outfitters

Bitterroot River recreation panel gets ‘push-back’ from fishing outfitters

Source: Missoulian
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PERRY BACKUS pbackus@ravallirepublic.com

HAMILTON — The Bitterroot River Recreation Advisory Committee will meet Monday to review its draft recommendations for managing river recreation on the Upper Bitterroot and West Fork — and some changes may be coming.

The current recommendation sets aside portions of the river to non-commercial use on specific days.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Recreation Manager Christine Oschell said last week the committee may alter that recommendation.

Oschell said there has been a “little push-back” from some fishing outfitters who aren’t completely sold on the proposal.

“We could be editing this and it might change,” she said. “I don’t know how much, but it could change.”

The 16-member, diverse volunteer committee met for four full days in developing its initial recommendation. Once finalized, the committee’s preferred alternative will be passed on to FWP officials.

The alternative will then go through an environmental review process that will include additional public comment before being presented to the state’s fish and wildlife commission.

The proposed alternative divides the upper Bitterroot River, including the West Fork, into four sections.

The section just below Painted Rocks Dam would be closed to all float fishing one day a week. That section runs from the dam to the Canoe fishing access site, which is located across the road from the Bitterroot Forest’s West Fork Ranger Station.

The closure of float fishing on the section would provide opportunity to non-commercial fishermen who prefer to wade.

The next section runs between the Canoe site to the Hannon Fishing Access Site.

Since that section is about twice as long as the rest, Oschell said there has been some talk about altering that section of river in some manner.

The other two sections run from Hannon to Wally Crawford and then Wally Crawford to Darby.

Under the preferred alternative, each one of those three sections of the river would be closed one day a week on consecutive days to commercial outfitters. The closure to commercial ventures would give local fishermen a place to go where they didn’t have to compete with professionally guided trips.

Outfitters would be limited to two launches per day at access sites open to commercial fishing.

There has been a similar system on the Big Hole River for years.

The preferred alternative also would require all fishing outfitters that use any portion of the Bitterroot River to obtain a special recreation permit, which would help FWP track outfitter numbers and the number of days they have boats on the river.

Similar permits are already required on other rivers in the state, including the Blackfoot and Madison.

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Monday’s meeting is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Bitterroot National Forest Supervisors Office in Hamilton, 1801 N. First St. There will be an opportunity for public comment at the end of the meeting.