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Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks - Madison River

Recreation Management – Rules Update January 2022

So you want to know “What’s the status of rules on the Madison?” Historically, a bit of background is needed to provide context to whatever update there is. In a long line of examples of clashes, it almost seems irrelevant what the background is anymore. It’s ultimately the same old story told time and again, year after year: make rules, reject rules, start over, create special committees, consider new rules, decide those rules aren’t good, receive petitions for other rules, consider those, develop compromise rules, welcome new administration's commissioners, decide those recently written rules aren’t good, create another work group, work on making new rules again. Repeating the same process over and over, each time expecting a different result. Isn’t that essentially the definition of insanity? In any event, as I sit here in January of 2022, this is the current situation.


The rule capping the total number of fishing outfitting and guided trips per individual outfitter and guide is at the number of trips reported in 2019 or 2020, whichever is higher, still remains. Details on how that allocation will be accomplished will be ironed out by the recently created “Madison River Work Group” (more on this group in a moment). This commercial cap will be implemented January 1, 2023.


The rules mostly pertaining to where boat fishing is allowed or not and when and where guides and outfitters are allowed, which was reached as a compromise between two competing petitions last year are now gone. Repealed last month. No new rules exist anymore in that department. Status quo currently. Beyond the general framework for commercial use caps, we are essentially back at square one with a blank slate in front of the current Madison River Work Group just waiting to be scribbled on (in pencil, not ink?). Nothing’s off the table. Your guess as to what the next rules will be is as good as mine.


Presently, in accordance with the Madison River recreation administrative rule, which was adopted last year by the Fish and Wildlife Commission, a 12-person work group has been convened and is represented by three commercial outfitters with current Madison River Special User Permits, three non-commercial river users, two people with Madison Valley business interests that are not connected to commercial outfitting, one person trained in natural resource management not employed by FWP, one at large person, a Fish and Wildlife Commissioner, and a representative from the Bureau of Land Management. The group is tasked with developing recommendations to present to the FWP Commission for approval. Ultimately, it’s up to the Commission to approve, deny, or modify whatever the group comes up with. With its first meeting in September of 2021, the group has met 4 times and is scheduled to meet again in Bozeman on January 24th at FWP headquarters at 6PM. Thus far, much of the substance of the initial meetings have focused on hearing from experts, gathering and compiling all available data on recreational use patterns, fisheries trends, etc. Although the group has agreed to place "river ambassadors" at a few boat launches this year to test out a new program aimed at making boat launches more efficient, no significant debate has taken place yet on some of the big elephants in the room. Everyone seems to be holding their cards closely. Hopefully, that’s a sign of thoughtful digestion of appropriate data to make informed decisions. Should we expect a different result from this group this time? Time will tell, but I’m inclined to think that this group seems more motivated than previous ones, to accomplish reasonable and effective rules. Thus far, emotions have been kept in check and momentum is on their side.