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Madison River Rules Delay?

Who's ready for the next chapter of the Madison River Recreation Plan?

Let's quickly recap where we are right now for those who haven't been living this for the last few years. Back on December 24, 2020, the Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted administrative rules regarding recreational use of the Madison River (ARM 12.11.6705). The rules included the establishment of an advisory workgroup, which will consist of 12 members who are appointed by the Fish and Wildlife Commission for three-year terms. The charge of the workgroup is to develop recommendations to the commission regarding: 1) the allocation of commercial-use trips to outfitters; 2) a process to permit new outfitters on the Madison River; 3) rule language to address all recreational use on the Madison River, including the walk/wade and rest/rotation sections; and 4) consequences of permit violations.


That's a full plate.


One potential snag before things even get started pertains to the commercial use cap. The adopted rules provided a timeline for implementation of the commercial cap, January 1, 2022 - only 9 months from now. Although there was general agreement that this cap would be based upon the number of days that outfitters did in either 2019 or 2020 (around 14,500 days total give or take), the exact method of how those days will be allocated to individual outfitters has yet to be determined or specifically spelled out and it will be up to this work group to provide a recommendation to the Commission, who will this either approve or deny said recommendation.


That's a mighty big detail to be ironed out by January, and the work group hasn't even been established yet. And given that 3 members will be current outfitters on the Madison, the summer season is quickly approaching and most outfitters are going to be busy on the river. So, FWP is proposing to delay the implementation date of the commercial use cap from January 2021 to January 2022, to allow time for the work group to be established and not be rushed to make such important decisions. An unfortunate setback, but we've lost 3 months already now from when rules were adopted with no work group established.


Along with the proposal by FWP to delay the commercial use cap implementation date next week at the April 1 Commission meeting, is the formal proposal of how FWP will solicit applicants to the all important work group. Assuming the Commission approves this proposal, FWP will then solicit applications and pick the members. There are 12 total members to be assigned to the work group, with specific roles for each. They are as follows:

  • 3 commercial outfitters with a current Madison River Special Recreation Use permit

  • 3 non-commercial Madison River users

  • 2 individuals with a Madison Valley business interest not connected to commercial outfitting

  • 1 individual trained in natural resource management and not currently working for the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks

  • 1 Fish and Wildlife Commissioner

  • 1 Bureau of Land Management representative

  • 1 at-large member whose selected qualities are largely outside the descriptions of other work Group members.

Twelve members is a lot. It's going to take some serious collaboration by those members to make all those recommendations. Can it be done? We've been down this road before with the NRC process, and we all know how that turned out. Maybe this time is different? Much depends on the individual members selected to the group. Let's hope for less turbulence in this chapter.