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Madison River Management Challenge

by Susan James, Dillon FO

 recreationists at the Warm Springs boat launch

The Warm Springs boat launch on the Madison River is a hive of activity on a summer afternoon.
BLM photo

 fishermen in drift boats

Fishing outfitters on the Madison River would be required to have a special recreation permit under the new operations plan.
BLM photo

The Madison River in southwestern Montana flows from Quake Lake near West Yellowstone to its confluence with the Jefferson River 130 miles downstream. It is recognized as the most heavily fished body of water in the state. The river sees over 100,000 anglers and nearly 400,000 total users per year – people literally loving the river to death. 

In an effort to manage river-related resources cohesively, the BLM and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will begin jointly administering river-related special recreation permits (SRP) this year.  The agencies announced the implementation of the permit program and the draft operations plan at public meetings in Bozeman, Ennis and West Yellowstone in January.  This partnership effort is similar to the joint SRP program implemented on the Blackfoot River near Missoula a few years ago.

SRPs are authorizations which allow for commercial, competitive, and organized group recreational activities on public lands and related waters. They are issued as a means to manage visitor use, protect natural and cultural resources, and provide for the health and safety of visitors. SRPs are also used to provide a fair return for the commercial recreational use of public lands.  Examples of activities requiring a permit include guided fishing, whitewater or scenic guided float trips, boat rentals and fishing lessons when a fee is charged, whitewater or flat water races or multi-sport events, and groups of 15 or more (such as a large scout campout, a fraternity activity, or large family reunion).

According to the plan, vending permits will also be required from individuals selling goods or services on public land in conjunction with a recreational activity. Examples include equipment rentals and repair services, shuttle services, or T-shirt sales at a raft race. Shuttle service permits will be required only on BLM lands. The FWP commission specifically exempted shuttle service from its permit rule. 

Fees generated from the program will be used to benefit the Madison River and the SRP program. An annual report will be prepared to illustrate how and where the fees are collected and spent. The agencies expect to form a community task force within the first year to assist the agencies in determining how best to spend those fees.

Comments on the draft operations plan were accepted until February 15. Permit applications will be available March 1 and renewed annually.