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MADISON RIVER RULES
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 August of 2022, this is the current situation.
Recommendations for commercial use management were developed by a 12-person work group representing a variety of interests that the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission tasked with looking at management solutions for commercial use and recreation on the Madison. The work group finalized its recommendations in May and presented them to the commission in June. Instead of initiating rule-making, the commission then directed FWP to seek comments from a broader public on the recommendations for a longer comment period than the rule-making process requires. FWP will report back to the commission on Dec. 16.
Here are the details of those recommendations:
The Madison River Work Group voted unanimously to present this set of Commercial Management
Proposals to the Fish & Wildlife Commission. These proposals were developed over a series of four full
Work Group meetings, nine Commercial Management Sub-Group meetings, and extensive exploration of
various alternatives for regulating guided trips by river service providers on the Madison River.
Overall Goals: Establish rules for commercial outfitting and users on the Madison River that:
1. Manage real (or perceived) social conflicts and crowding on the river and at Fishing Access
Sites (“FAS’s”), particularly during Peak Season usage;
2. By managing commercial use, protect and optimize the opportunities and quality of the
experience for diverse users of the river;
3. Are practical and least restrictive for river service providers, regulatory agencies, and the local
business communities to sustain healthy local economies; and
4. Provide the opportunity for new river service providers to operate on the Madison River and
for existing providers to transfer all or portions of their permitted trip allowances as business
Executive Summary of Recommendations. (Please see March 21, 2022 Report for background discussion
of issues and options.)
1. No change to joint FWP/BLM Special River Permit. Maintain current Special River Permit (“SRP”)
system pursuant to 2007 Cooperative Management Agreement between FWP and BLM for
governing access to Fishing Access Sites (“FAS’s”), reporting annual usage, and collection of fees.
No limitation on granting of new SRP’s to new river service providers.
2. New Montana River Use Permit. Using existing authority under ARM 12.14.120 (Commercial Use
Permit) and related ARM’s, Fish and Wildlife Commission can authorize a new State of Montana
Madison River Use Permit (“RUP”) and related regulations to govern commercial river service
providers’ allocation system. A RUP may only be issued to a properly licensed SRP holder. (NOTE:
FWP may wish to consider alternative names for the allocation permit, such as “Madison
Commercial Use Permit.” Ideally the commercial allocation permit will be identified differently
from any future non-commercial recreational floating permit system.)
3. Use “Best of” 2019 or 2020 Trips. Implement ARM 12.11.605(2) limiting the total annual
commercial RUP trips for each SRP holder at the number of trips reported for 2019 or 2020,
whichever is higher. This should produce a total annual RUP trip allocation pool of approximately
16,200 trips. (NOTE: Preliminary reports show 2021 actual Madison SRP usage was approximately
18,000 trips – an increase of 4,000 trips over the highest historical usage in 2019 of approximately
4. Geographical Application of RUP. The RUP system and allocated trip limits will apply to all
sections of the Madison River that are covered by the SRP system. In other words, this would2
apply from the outlet of Quake Lake to the junction with the Jefferson River, with the exception
of Ennis Lake and the Bear Trap Wilderness boundaries.
5. No Peak Season or Geographical Limits on RUP usage. There has been very extensive discussion
and analysis of historical use patterns by season and by reach of the river, the implications of
managing either seasonal or geographic limitations, the stated desire of many interested parties
to have a fixed annual cap on commercial usage, and the desire of others to either limit potential
Peak Season growth or to allow some level of growth in Off-Peak usage. Although not unanimous,
the majority recommendation is to use Adaptive Management review to monitor any changes in
use patterns and implement either geographical or seasonal use limits if usage changes
6. Limited Appeals Process for Initial Allocation of RUP Trips. To address the potential of very
unusual and extenuating circumstances that may have limited a river service provider’s ability to
conduct trips in 2019 or 2020, the Commission could:
a. Appoint an Appeals Board (no SRP or RUP holders) or FWP Staff to collect any appeals and
make recommendations to the Commission for Commission action.
b. Appeals submitted by May 1, 2023, and final decisions no later than May 1, 2024. (NOTE:
This appeals period could be adjusted depending upon timing for final approval of this
proposal and the anticipated staff and commission schedules to handle any appeals.)
c. Unique and extenuating circumstances must be shown, such as:
i. Major and persistent medical issues,
ii. Active military service,
iii. Significant and unforeseen family crisis,
iv. Other unforeseen and unanticipated factors that clearly demonstrate
extenuating circumstances, unique to their situation.
d. Appeals are limited to a request to have historic use from any portion of the 2016, 2017
or 2018 SRP reported trips to be considered in the allocation process.
e. Require proof that the provider returned to levels of historical operation during either the
2021 or 2022 operations.
f. The total number of additional trips that may be granted via appeals should be limited to
no more than five hundred trips (approximately 3% of the initial RUP allocation). Prorated
among appellants if the aggregate approved requests exceed the 3% limit.
7. Donation of Charitable Trips Exemption. Donations of trips to qualified charitable 501(c)3
organizations shall NOT be counted against a river service provider’s RUP allocation. Any donated
trips should be reported separately, together with written documentation of the IRS 501(c)3
designation and confirmation that NO compensation was received by the river service provider
for the donated trip. The maximum number of exempt annual trips for charitable donations for
each river service provider shall be limited to a maximum of three (3) trips or three percent (3%)
of the river service provider’s annual allocation determined at the beginning of the year,
whichever is greater.
8. Fluid Transferability of Allocated Trips. Flexible and convenient transferability of allocated trips
(“Trips”) authorized under the RUP system, on a temporary or permanent basis, in whole or on a
daily Trip basis, is a critical element of an effective and efficient limitation for commercial usage
on the Madison River. Fluid transferability is consistent with recently passed legislation (SB275)
now codified in MCA Section 37-47-310. An open, market-based transferability system will help3
to maximize the utilization of the authorized RUP Trips and, in turn, support the local economies,
allow more realistic entry of new SRP holders onto the Madison at a reasonable cost, and facilitate
the normal fluctuations among river service providers’ annual usage. Key items may include:
a. All transfers must be recorded with FWP process (see example of NHCU online system).
b. Allow temporary use transfers (limited to one calendar year usage).
c. Allow permanent transfers.
d. Transferee must be a SRP holder.
9. Use It or Lose It. Persistent non-use of RUP trips could have adverse impacts on the health of
local economies, the ease of entry for new river service providers, and the flexible transfer of
RUP’s among providers as business conditions change. The recommended provisions could
a. If there is no usage for 3 consecutive years, complete forfeiture of RUP allocation.
b. A river service provider must operate more than 50% of their season ending trip allocation
over a three year period, or their allocated trip allocation will be reduced to their highest
level of annual use over the same period.
c. If a provider’s SRP or RUP has expired, then all associated allocated trips are forfeit.
d. Forfeited Trips will be re-allocated to other river service providers through a lottery, with
a preference for providers that have held a Madison SRP for two years or less.
10. Adaptive Management Reviews. The Madison River RUP system should be evaluated annually
for the first three years and at least once every three years thereafter to determine if it is
functioning as contemplated or if there are new conditions requiring modifications to the system.
The review could be conducted by the Commission or a Work Group assigned by the Commission
to make recommendations for possible Commission actions. Possible Guidelines for Adaptive
Management Review could include:
a. Coordination with any comprehensive Recreational River Management Plan for non-
b. If actual annual commercial usage drops below 75% of total RUP allocated Trips, review:
i. Any impediments to ease of transferability of allocated Trips among SRP holders,
ii. Any modifications to “Use it or Lose it” requirements,
iii. Possible issuance of additional RUP allocated Trips to increase overall pool of
iv. Any broad economic or environmental conditions affecting RUP usage.
c. If actual usage becomes more condensed into the Peak Season or into certain periods on
one or more sections of the Madison, review:
i. Potential for creating Peak Season limitations or Off-Peak Season changes,
ii. Potential for creating geographical limitations,
iii. Potential for specific FAS launch limitations by site, per day or week, etc.
d. Review Charitable Trip exemption usage for effectiveness, abuse, or any adjustments,
particularly if exempt trips exceed 300 per year.
e. Review definition of a “Trip” if it becomes necessary to limit the number of guests per
guide or otherwise more specifically define a “Trip”.4
f. Review usage patterns on Ennis Lake to determine if any commercial use regulations are
g. Review ease of entry for new river service providers and any needed modifications to the
11. Enforcement Mechanisms. Enforcement should be via existing Commission regulations and
enforcement mechanisms for compliance with all applicable SRP and RUP requi
In addition to these recommendations, below are other important changes being proposed to existing rules:
Opportunities for New Entry for River Service Providers and Outfitting Financial Models, June 2022 (PDF)
Commercial Watercraft Rental Delivery - Final Recommendations, April 2022 (PDF)
Economic Implications of Madison River Commercial Limit Options, April 2022 (PDF)
Vessel Requirements on Upper on Upper River Final Recommendations, May 2022 (PDF)
Bear Trap Canyon Float Permit Final Recommendation, May 2022 (PDF)
FWP staff will also host several meetings to share information about the recommendations and answer questions. Comments on the recommendations won’t be recorded at the meetings, but attendees will be given information on how to submit comments. Meetings will be in the following locations, each beginning at 6 p.m.:
Sept. 6: Bozeman Comfort Inn, 1370 N. 7th Ave.
Sept. 7: Ennis Elementary School cafeteria, 223 Charles Ave.
Sept. 8: West Yellowstone Convention and Visitors Bureau, 30 Yellowstone Ave.
Sept. 13: Butte - Montana Tech Student Union Building in Butte, 1300 W. Park St., room 204
Sept. 14: Virtual meeting via Zoom
Members of the public who wish to ask questions during the virtual meeting must register in advance by noon on Sept. 13.
Those who register will receive an email with information to login to the meeting.
Please provide your comments specific to each recommendation.
Deadline: Public comments will be taken until Oct. 14, 2022
Email to: email@example.com
Or mail to:
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
Attn. Charlie Sperry
P.O. Box 200701
Helena, MT 59620-0701